Friday, June 25, 2010

Good Congress, Bad Congress

I wrote an item earlier in the week casting doubt on the idea that people would ever pay attention to the mind-numbingly boring details of the banking bill conference committee, but I should have added one other thing: it's too bad that they don't.  It makes Congress look good.  They're obviously hard at work (and going late into the night at times); they seem to know what they're doing; and overall it's a much better side of Congress than most people ever see.  There's some posturing, sure, but a whole lot less than people are used to.  Which comes to mind not just because I watched some of the conference committee late last night, but also because we're coming up on one of the occasions that makes Congress look about as bad as possible: the round of opening statements during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a Supreme Court nominee.  Alas, that's one of the things that people actually do watch -- the cable networks go live, and the arguments and topics of discussion are all familiar and relatively easy to follow. 

Now, I assume that most people watching the conference committee in action would be totally lost, in one sense -- the procedure is obscure, and the issues technical (OK, maybe it's just me -- I just can't bring myself to get interested in the policy details of this issue at all).  Still, I don't think people would watch this and get the impression that politicians are preening clowns, which is exactly the impression people will have of Senate Judiciary when their hearing gets started, at least if past results are any guide to future performance. 

My suggestion for those of you reading this -- and if you are, you're certainly in the upper sliver of high-information, high-interest citizens when it comes to politics and public affairs -- my suggestion is that if you've never watched a Congressional committee markup or conference committee, that you make an effort to watch one.  Floor action, hearings, election campaigns...that's when we see our Members of Congress, but it isn't when they do serious legislating.  Now, a fair amount of legislating goes on behind closed doors -- which is entirely appropriate, by the way.  But, still, if you're interested in politics, I really do recommend watching a mark-up sometime.  Well, at least fifteen minutes, half an hour, something like that, to get a taste of it.  I'm certainly not claiming that if more people watched committee markups that everyone would love Congress; I know everyone hates Congress, and they always have and they always will.  I'm just saying that it would be nice if at least those who care the most and spend the most time on politics would at least get some sense of what Congress actually does when it writes laws.

Me, I'm trying to figure out how to survive the Kagan hearings.  I'm thinking maybe a lot of really sarcastic live-tweeting, maybe. 


  1. my suggestion is that if you've never watched a Congressional committee markup or conference committee, that you make an effort to watch one.

    My suggestion is that next time you see a good one, you link to it.

  2. What the first guy said. I was going to share such a thing on the Facebooks, since my conservative friends thing the Dems are plotting a fascist takeover. It'd be useful to show that if it's indeed a coup, it's a really really boring one.

  3. By the time I posted, the conference was over. C-SPAN (it's has links to it, in four parts, on their home page right now...they also have made their complete archives available online, so you can poke around and find stuff. Got to the video library tab, and then select "Congressional committees" instead of "all categories" and look for markups (and there has to be a better way to search, but I'm not seeing it right now).

  4. At this point, is watching a conference committee like watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace--just a throw-back to an old world that really doesn't exist anymore?

    I don't mean comity and Congress getting work done, I mean the use of a conference committee!

  5. Matt,

    Yes, except that this was a real, honest-to-goodness conference committee. First one in some time. Maybe it'll be the last one, but who knows -- maybe they'll find that it works, and they'll start doing it more often.

    Of course, most of the hard bargaining took place away from the cameras, which is just gonna happen any time there's a purely public process, and is certainly fine with me. But I do think this is better than the GOP-era closed-room-plus-ratify conferences, or the Dem-era closed-room-plus-pingpong version.


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