Move on to a discussion of our crumbling drinking water infrastructure and the rationale behind cuts of 40 percent in this area. Then perhaps follow with the rationale behind cuts in safeguarding “loose nukes.” And segue to cuts in biomedical research grants.
Then have a robust discussion about smart power, including the Institute of Peace, which was derided by Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) as a “think tank.” Perhaps a debate that included some background — its creation under President Ronald Reagan, its role in building civil society in Afghanistan and Iraq, its training efforts to make sure that when popular revolts take place in volatile countries like Egypt and Libya there are people who can build free societies and negotiate differences across tribes and regions.
A debate about Pell Grants and the implications of cuts for middle-income families with kids in college, AmeriCorps and Teach for America, federal aid to the states for Medicaid (and what will happen if additional Medicaid cuts in a weak economy mean more people turning up at emergency rooms), elimination of aid to Planned Parenthood and its implications for cervical cancer and women’s health, might follow.
Let’s move on to a debate about the presidential public funding system, slated for demise. That debate might include articles co-authored by conservatives like former Federal Election Commissioner Michael Toner about why the presidential public funding system needs reform to make it robust again, to keep the Watergate-style corruption that generated it in the 1970s from flooding back into a system that is already moving in that awful direction.
What a perfect way to show the American people the Senate can be a great debating society, a truly deliberative body. The debate should not just be a defense of existing programs but a searching look at where reasonable cuts can be made. Maybe then we can move to serious deliberation about the tough choices we have ahead and on the revenues necessary to provide for the government the American people want. That might actually be the kind of adult conversation Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has called for, which the current dynamic of brinksmanship has in no way resembled.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.