The concept is a good one. But it leaves me queasy. I have long called for a three weeks on, one week off schedule for two reasons. The first is I want to find ways to encourage members to spend more time together, and to move their families to Washington. The best way to encourage civil discourse is for people to get to know each other as people; it is very hard to call a colleague a treasonous pig if you have spent time with his or her family on the sidelines of a kid’s soccer game. The second is to provide the long and continuous stretches of Congressional sessions that encourage real deliberation and debate, and do not provide the kinds of disincentives for the regular order that the disjointed and limited schedule has set in place.
This new schedule is actually designed to deter the former goal; it makes it much easier and less painful for Members to keep families at home. I want regularity and good family lives, but the more time Members are away, the less time they spend communicating with and getting to know their colleagues, and the more they get away from the central concept the framers had about Congress — a coming together of people from disparate places and backgrounds, able to deliberate face to face in our extended republic.
There is a concurrent promise to have much more debate, many more amendments and more appropriations bills done under open rules, but while spending dramatically less time in Washington. There is no way to make both things happen. Something has to give, and I strongly suspect it will be open debate and deliberation.
Now we come to the rules related to the budget and fiscal policy. I will have to address these fully in another column because there are many new things. But let me start by addressing the provision in the rules to deputize the chairman of the House Budget Committee to unilaterally create spending and revenue limits and caps by committee and enact them simply by publishing them in the Congressional Record.
This is breathtaking: It demolishes the Congressional budget process in one fell swoop, and it takes away the accountability, openness and deliberation that a regular budget process provides. This is the opposite of accountability; Members, by voting in lockstep to enact a package of rules, will implicitly vote for a budget they have never seen. It will be binding in the House.
When individual appropriations come up, any proposal that changes the edicts of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) by restoring cuts in spending will be ruled out of order. Dramatic and Draconian budget cuts without votes or debate. That is the new open and deliberative House?
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.