Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Saving the Senate

The Senate is back in session after its Independence Day Recess. They returned to their dismal stalemate on major issues, which has been the hallmark of this Congress.

There are just twenty-one legislative days until the August Recess. Then everyone’s attention turns to the Summer Olympics and the National Party Conventions. When the Senate reconvenes on September 8 it will meet for probably twenty more days before everyone leaves for the final weeks of campaigning.

The entrenched partisanship is unlikely to allow anything of substance to move through the Senate, except possibly a continuing resolution to keep the government operating through the election. Therefore, our tax dollars and political energies will be spent watching the Senate cloak its dysfunction with mountains of rhetoric. Neither side wants to cooperate or compromise as everyone assumes they will be in a better political position with a new President.

There is a better way.

The Senate has a unique opportunity to show political leadership. For the first time in American history the two major party nominees are both serving Senators. The only other time anything close to this has happened was when numerous people ran (or stood) for the Presidency with multiple and weak party affiliations prior to the Civil War.

The Senate could host a series of major debates between McCain and Obama. Under Senate rules the two candidates could spend hours, even days, debating each other. They could even give mock “state of the union” addresses with the other delivering a rebuttal. These could be done with each one alternating between giving a standard 45-minute address and the other giving a 15-minute rebuttal every week. The rotation could be decided by a coin toss.

The other option is to take legislation from the calendar and give McCain and Obama as many hours as they want to discuss these major issues in detail. Other Senators could also set-up forums where they could take on a major issue each day or week and discuss what they would do in the next Congress. In all of these scenarios, CSPAN and the major networks would cover such sessions gavel to gavel. The stage is already set and the rules are already in place. No games, just real debate.

In all cases voters will have an opportunity to watch the Senate do what it historically does best – discuss major national issues in an open forum. This could revolutionize the campaign process and do a great service toward informing voters of where everyone stands.

To make this happen the Senate leadership would have to agree on ways to expedite the passage of minor bills, like naming Post Offices. This could be done by grouping them into omnibus packages. Currently these bills serve as time wasters as Senators maneuver behind the scenes on major issues. As there is no hope for major action, let’s move beyond parliamentary games and bring real issues to the forefront in real ways.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Senate chamber is the last place that should become an arena for presidential debate regardless of the fact that both major candidates are Senators. Senate rules would prohibit direct and personal attacks on the presidency and on either candidate. It is hard to have a frank debate with such restrictions. I am all for presidential debates, but not on Capitol Hill. Neither candidate could even mention their websites because this would violate election laws prohibiting direct solitication of funds from Capitol Hill. Ray Smock, Former House of Reps. Historian.