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It is time for President's Questions

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It is time for President’s Questions

 

I first became acquainted with Prime Minister’s Questions in or around 1985. I remember channel surfing for something interesting and coming across this group of people, clearly politicians each surrounded by a group of followers trading policy challenges and jibes. I recognized British Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Margaret Thatcher right away. Soon, I learned the name of her antagonist, MP Neil Kinnock, head of the Labor Party. The two traded barbed comments designed to rally other MPs around their cause and show the other’s policy proposals to be ridiculous. The other members of Parliament laughed, indicated agreement via loud “here, here’s!” or engaged in cat calls depending on whether their leader or the leader of the “party opposite” had spoken and of course depending on whether they agreed or disagreed with what was being said.

 

The point of Prime Minister’s Questions is to provide a public forum where at least once a week, the most powerful person and party in government is directly challenged on his (or her) policies regarding the most important issues of the day. It is both highly theatrical and heavily governed by a specific set of rules (for instance, participants who speak must refer to other members of parliament either by their title or by “My Right Honorable Friend”). Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Wales and India have something similar to the UK version. British Prime Ministers have both been helped and had their offices saved, and terribly hurt and saw the end of their rule directly as a result of interactions in Prime Minister’s Questions. The forum provides little escape from accountability. If a Prime Minister cannot articulate a good and logical policy on something important, it is immediately obvious to the whole country and the issue is raised again each week unless and until he comes up with good answers and sometimes it is still brought up even then.

 

We need to adopt this kind of accountability here in the United States. What we have seen with the Bush administration is perhaps the best shielding of the President and his policies from the press in modern times with disastrous results. At least, it was disastrous from the point of view of the country. From the point of view of a President being able to pursue his policies with a minimal amount of interference, it was a success. As a result, I have no doubt that other administrations will attempt to implement similar press control policies. President’s Questions would be the solution to greater Presidential accountability.

 

How would it work?

This is the question that has dogged me for some time and has thus postponed the writing of this article. I have believed in the idea of President’s Questions for some time, I just did not know how to practically implement it. I now have some ideas on how to make it work in the US; here are a few of them:

 

1. At the White House State Dining Room

40 Members of congress, 20 from the house and 20 from the senate, in proportion to party percentages in each of the chambers with the head of each party in each chamber (or his designate if absent) being an automatic attendee and the party leadership of each chamber choosing the rest, plus the Speaker of the House, would be invited each week to the White House State Dining Room where each party would be placed in its own section with the President sitting with his party’s delegation. The Speaker of the House would preside and call on prospective congress people in turn and up to twenty questions would be asked of the President, divided up by the percentages of party representation. The President would answer and the leader of the opposition party or parties would be afforded the opportunity to rebut and the President (or his designate if he is unavailable) would be given a chance to respond once more. The event would be attended by the press and televised live each week and repeats would be televised a few days later.

 

2. On the floor of the House

Once per week, the President would come to the floor of the House, be announced and would sit with his party’s delegation at a combined session of congress seated in a way similar to the State of the Union address. The Speaker of the House (or his designate if absent) would preside and call on prospective congress people in turn and up to twenty questions would be asked of the President, divided up by the percentages of party representation then selected at random among those who have questions. The President would answer and the leader of the opposition party or parties would be afforded the opportunity to rebut and the President (or his designate if he is unavailable) would be given a chance to respond.  The event would be attended by the press and televised live each week and repeats would be televised a few days later. This is my preferred idea for implementing this in the US.

 

3. On the floor of the Senate

Once per week, the President would come to the floor of the Senate, be announced and would sit with his party’s delegation at a combined session of congress. Senators would be given priority for the seats and House members could sit in any vacant seats or stand. The Vice President would preside, as he is the speaker of the senate, or his designate if he was absent, and he would call on congress people in turn and up to twenty questions would be asked of the President, divided up by the percentages of party representation then selected at random among those who have indicated they have a question. The President would answer and the leader of the opposition party or parties would be afforded the opportunity to rebut and the President (or his designate if he is unavailable) would be given a chance to respond.  The event would be attended by the press and televised live each week and repeats would be televised a few days later. I like this option least because having the Vice President act as speaker in the event would give it an appearance of an unfair edge to the President in the proceedings. The President already has an edge in being the unitary leader of the executive branch.

 

However implemented, President’s Questions would be a needed addition to governmental and executive accountability here in the US. In an era where many are too busy to read the papers or watch nightly news to acquaint themselves regularly with the happenings of our government, President’s Questions would allow the country to get regular and highly relevant snapshots of the issues of the day. Thus informed, all Americans would be better able to make decisions regarding whether their government was properly serving them.

 

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A political blogger for the International Business Times, Steve Leser is a hot national political pundit. He has appeared on MSNBC's Coundown with Keith Olbermann, Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Russia Today's (RT) Crosstalk with (more...)
 
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Politics would actually be fun to watch again.Don&... by Willard Russell on Tuesday, Jun 26, 2007 at 9:05:48 AM

 

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