Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lulus distributed more equitably, but still not earned

Yesterday, the Daily News reported that the Senate Democrats are in “high level discussions” to give committee chairmanships to Republican members in hopes of improving relations between the two parties in the narrowly-divided chamber. Likely reflecting the nature of the talks themselves, the article emphasized the $12,500 lulus that GOP committee chairs will receive.

While bipartisan leadership is great, we certainly hope that this won’t be the only reform to the committee process that the Senate contemplates this month. When the chamber changed its rules in the wake of the coup last July, it also passed a resolution promising to return to the issue of committee reforms. Last month, Senate staff informed us that we could expect an outline of these reforms in December. In response to this news, we offered suggestions including reducing the number of committees, requiring committee reports, establishing a mark-up process, and institutionalizing conference committees to reconcile similar bills passed in both chambers. The promise to consider such changes has yet to be fulfilled.

Committee members of both parties need to earn their lulus by presiding over hearings, markups, and active discussion devoted to debating and improving legislation. If the Senate doesn’t go further to reform its committees, this new era of bipartisanship will mean little more than compensating members on both sides of the aisle for doing very little.

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