We need new ideas to make Washington work again
Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.
Today: Fixing government
Bob: A distinguished group of citizens, including a bipartisan group of former elected officials has produced a fascinating new study called "Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen Our Democracy." My initial reaction was, "Oh man, another study gathering dust!" After reading it, I see my reaction was premature.
Cal: Funny how so many of these commissions are made up of people who are no longer in office.
Bob: Who else has the time and the experience?
Cal: True, but when they were in office — I'm thinking particularly of former senators Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., who were on the commission — common ground was often a low priority. The key is to get reforms like this into the minds of people who still have power to do something about it.
Bob: I was most interested in their electoral reform proposals. It's a good idea to create independent redistricting committees to redraw congressional district boundaries. If implemented as the few states that currently use similar redistricting committees, there's a chance voters will get to pick their representatives rather than the other way around.
Cal: Agreed. The way redistricting works now might be called the incumbent protection program. It's virtually impossible to defeat an incumbent member of Congress of either party. I give you last week's runoff in Mississippi as a prime example. What do you think of the study's proposed national congressional primary?
Bob: I like it. During an election year, state-by-state primaries are spread over six or seven months, derailing the legislative process in Washington. Campaigning takes the place of legislating. In addition, incumbents who are challenged within their parties (usually by extreme partisans) tend to become more inflexible and move to the extremes during the primary campaigns. I also think their proposals for full disclosure of contributions is critical.
Cal: I completely agree on full disclosure. I also like the idea of synchronized House and Senate workweeks and the proposal for the Senate to give "priority consideration to a minimum of 10 amendments offered by and alternating between senators of both parties." That would reduce much of the rancor that exists when the majority squashes amendments and debate by members of the minority party.
Bob: I agree. I particularly like the idea of filibusters going back to what they were meant to be. All senators can say what they want and then vote. I also like the proposal for a two-year budget, which moves away from today's rules that don't work.
Cal: That sounds good to me.
Bob: Like so many thoughtful commission proposals, it would be naïve to think they will all be implemented. The special interests, particularly the ideological ones on the right and left, will rise up to oppose most of this. But I hope for once a cynical media does not automatically consider these proposals dead on arrival. It seems to me the media have a responsibility to push these proposals to the extent they agree with them as much as they possibly can and treat them as a serious effort by serious people because that is exactly what they are. Those in the media who consider these proposals as folly are not serious people and frankly have little interest in the country's future, in my opinion.
Cal: We are part of the media, and we have agreed on much in the commission's proposals, but it's really up to readers and the rest of the country to take care of this fragile and unique system of government. As Ronald Reagan said, freedom "is never more than one generation away from extinction."
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