The Art of Collegial Debate: Imposing discipline can induce collegiality

In recent years our officials in Washington have lost the art of collegial debate as the atmosphere has grown increasingly partisan and the verbal assaults increasingly acrimonious. When a contentious issue is raised, we see little or no attempt to engage the opposition in a civil dialogue. Under these circumstances, a rational discussion and exchange of ideas across the aisle is not possible, which inevitably results in laws that do not embody the best thinking of all of our elected representatives.

There has always been a certain amount of harsh rhetoric in Washington, but it was usually to score points with a particular constituency or perhaps the general public. But, having made their point the players would then sit down and discuss the issue privately, often reaching a compromise that led to bipartisan legislation. Sadly, however, those days are long gone: harsh rhetoric, name-calling, and a “take no prisoners” mindset are now the new normal in Washington.

The Act 2 reforms address this situation and would empower the new States’ Compact with the authority to impose new procedures and disciplines on Congress, the executive branch, and independent agencies that would require open and free debate on the issues and would sharply reduce the hyper-aggressive tone in political discourse. Congressional bills could no longer be rushed through in the dead of night without time allowed for members to even read the bill. Respect for the opposition would be evident in collegial debates.

To arrive at the best outcomes, the new States’ Compact could require that the legislative process follows these steps:

  1. Discussion of the need for action on a particular problem.

  2. Exploration of the alternative ways that the issue might be resolved, with a consensus emerging for a preferred option.

  3. Agreement reached on how to measure the success of the action selected to resolve the problem, and incorporation of this in the bill.

  4. Adequate time allowed for members of Congress to study the bill before a vote is called.

  5. After enactment, periodic assessment of the consequences of the law, good and bad, to measure its success.

  6. Modification (or repeal) of the law to correct any serious shortcomings in its results.

The Compact would issue reprimands and/or penalties to officials guilty of breaching a civil code of conduct. It could challenge public statements of officials that it deemed had violated civic norms.

After implementation of the reforms, Congress would, at last, begin functioning as a

disciplined body seeking the best possible solutions to our national problems. They

would resemble a debating society rather than an undisciplined, raucous mob.

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