by Karl Kurtz
U.S. Senators Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) have proposed the creation of a commission to address the federal deficit. For Congress to give up the power of the purse to this commission would be to relinquish its fundamental responsibility in our system of representative democracy.
The commission would be made up of 18 members--four members of Congress selected by each of the four congressional party leaders, the secretary of the treasury and one other member selected by the president. At least 14 of the members of the commission would have to agree to make recommendations to cut the federal deficit. The Congress would then consider the recommendations after the 2010 elections under expedited procedures, no amendments allowed, and a super-majority would be required to pass the proposal.
This proposal has been kicking around for a while but has new currency because Conrad and Gregg propose to attach it to the must-pass debt limit resolution in the next week or so.
Yesterday, Denise Baer, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University and a consultant sent an e-mail message to political scientists who study legislative politics
to urgently request that you consider adding your voice asking Congress to say “no” to this unprecedented, undemocratic, and unnecessary voiding of traditional legislative prerogatives.
Here is the heart of her argument:
For Congress to “outsource” its legislative powers in such a wholesale way (as Sen. Max Baucus put it) is wrong, and risks reducing congressional oversight and accountability at a time when public will is diverse and lacking for the type of hard decisions that must be made. In my view, to seek to educate the public AFTER a task force or commission has prepared non-amendable legislation...is both backwards and anti-democratic...AND is partisan in that it reflects congressional deference to a special interest set of economic interests unable to win at the polls. We political scientists know better -- that ALL interests are special, and it is the special role of Congress to transparently and democratically represent the melding of public views in authoritative legislation (as Professors Rosenthal, Loomis, Hibbing and Kurtz have so persuasively reminded us in Republic On Trial).
Whoa! I didn't expect--but am pleased--to find Republic on Trial:The Case for Representative Democracy cited in this discussion. I'm glad Ms. Baer finds our argument persuasive that it is the role of legislatures to resolve the many disagreements and competing interests in our society through a process of debate, negotiation and compromise.