The World's Greatest Deliberative Body

The U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Combined, they make up the greatest deliberative body in the world. Where our elected representatives meet and debate in the open to determine the laws of the land in the greatest representative democracy the world has ever seen. Committees are formed consisting of members of each party in our two-party system. These committees in both bodies use public hearings to debate and gather input on the important public matters of the day, such as tax policy, budgets, appropriations, etc. It is designed to be an open process that produces annual budgets and appropriations, with the full vote of both bodies required to pass a law and send it to the president for his assent or veto.

This is a process that has been used for centuries to keep the machinery of the government working in a way that is tied to the will of the people. An open process, including public meetings and detailed deliberation of each component of the federal government. This legislative process, created over the lifetime of our republic, with open debate, a publicly understood order of business, a calendar, and a means of resolving committee recommendations toward the goal of creating law, is what has made our country work.

Has anyone seen this process lately? Is there a budget deliberation and public meeting process for each federal department that is escaping my notice? Is there an annual budget anymore? Where are the committee chairmen and ranking members discussing their legislation? And where is the public debate about tax policy geared toward writing legislation that is delivered to the president? Am I mistaken, or has our entire legislative process now been reduced to a hostage negotiation process, where a group of unidentified people "take care of the deal" and inform us later of what had to be done? Is there any intention to ever return to a normal legislative process and calendar? If not, what is the purpose of the year that is spent prior to December 15, when the secret negotiators actually start their secret bargaining?

And what is the purpose of the representatives and senators who are not the speaker and the majority leader? When the speaker finally concludes his secret discussions, are individual representatives allowed to dissent from what the speaker has agreed to? Or would that be considered disruptive and partisan? If yes, then what is the point of having representatives? Are all of these people just paid actors in a very strange evolution of performance art? If yes, I would get more enjoyment out of the performance where the woman got naked and smeared herself in chocolate to protest Jesse Helms.

Ah, Jesse Helms. I remember how he was both vilified and mocked as a backwoods redneck moron. But I also remember how he took his role as a senator seriously. Were he alive today, I believe Jesse Helms would grind the entire machinery of the government to a halt to make a simple point -- that the U.S. Congress is a coequal branch of government and has a job to do and a defined process by which to do it. Secret meetings and secret votes and no budgets and no debate are criminal acts of negligence that Jesse would not have tolerated. Jesse Helms understood there are ways for each elected representative to exercise their power, even when they are in the minority. And believe me, Jesse Helms would not have stood by and silently witnessed the U.S. Congress allowing itself to become a tool of tyranny.

Do we have any Jesse Helmses around today? Is there someone who will pull the emergency brake cord on this out of control train that our current speaker and president are sending into the darkness?