John McCain said in a speech that he would ask Congress for an American equivalent of the Prime Minister “Question Time” that occurs in many parliamentary governments. There have been some editorials on this from George Will and the New York Times as well as some blogging on the concept.
I think most people miss the point (although Mr. Will probably comes the closest to getting it right, in my opinion). In most Parliamentary Government systems, the voters elect the Parliament and they, in turn, elect the Prime Minister (in the UK countries this is slightly different in that the Monarch actually appoints the PM but in modern history the Monarch appoints the choice of the Parliament). So in this government, the Prime Minister serves at the pleasure of the Parliament.
To compare this to the US would mean that the offices of Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader would combine to satisfy the role of the Prime Minister (not exactly of course, but close).
As any 7th grade US student should be able to describe, we have 3 separate and equal branches of government. The Senate and House form the Legislative branch and the President forms the Executive branch. The Executive branch is not more answerable to the Legislative branch than vice versa. They are equals.
So while I think more open dialog in our government is important, Mr. McCain would be wise not to adopt the British form that is also broadcast on CSPAN. He doesn’t answer to Congress anymore than Congress answers to him.
Instead, if Mr. McCain is elected and decides to implement this idea, it needs to expand:
- for every question from Congress, the President should be able to ask a specific question to someone from Congress that is in attendance. This balances the level of accountability
- in Britain there is a time limit for the questions. The US would also need a time limit to cut off long speeches (maybe even a time limit in the phrasing of a question).
- the overall time should be cut in half. The first half of the US Question Time would be with the Congress and the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House. Since they are rough approximations of the Prime Minister, it is reasonable that they should be accountable to their collective bodies. Perhaps they could rotate who is grilled by week. The second half of the event would be the US President and the two way question session I propose above.
I think that all of this would make for an interesting addition to the political process. It would add more transparency to the process and allow the US President to remind Congress to get their jobs done. It would also allow Congress the opportunity to force the President to explain his/her decisions and reasons.
I am done with this topic for now but I reserve the right to rant more on it someday.
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