To Reduce Partisanship, Follow England and Implement Question Time

When the President of the United States gives his State of the Union Address, he stands up in front of Congress and broadcasts his agenda to the American people, right over the heads of the leaders in front of him.

Somewhere far across the Capitol, members of the opposing party prepare remarks that address their own talking points and “refute” the President. But these remarks are prepared in advance. There is no back-and-forth, no dialogue requiring one side to consider and respond to the points of the other.

This is symptomatic of how Washington works -- or doesn’t -- these days. Disconnect seems to rule: Disconnects between Republicans and Democrats, disconnects between leaders and constituents and disconnects between Congress and the President.

If we are going to bridge these divides and break the stranglehold that hyper-partisanship has on our politics, we must first stop talking past each other, drop the pre-fab, partisan scripts and actually engage in substantive debate.

There is no magic formula for making this happen. But we could start by borrowing a proven method for fostering dialogue from our friends in England: Question Time.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, the Prime Minister must appear regularly before Parliament and literally answer to the legislators, responding directly to their questions and concerns.

We propose that America institute a similar policy, one where the president comes before a joint session of Congress once a month and responds to questions.

In January of 2010, President Obama responded to inquiries from House Republicans at a Baltimore hotel. Republicans forced Obama to address questions they had been asking C-SPAN cameras and empty rooms for months. And they actually got answers.

Actual debate forces each side to address concerns from the other. And if America’s leaders fail to address these concerns, there will be a record of their refusing to do so.

Critics say that the optics of such a policy could be a problem. When John McCain added Question Time to his 2008 campaign platform, George Will wrote, “McCain’s proposal would further diminish Congress’s dignity by deepening the perception of its subordination.”

Will misses the point. Politics as usual is not awash in dignity as it is. When elected officials fight, quarrel, twist and shout about their own ideas without acknowledging the other side, the country loses. Parties are pitted against one another leaving America stuck in gridlock without hope of moving forward.

The legislative and executive branches cannot continue to function in independent silos. America needs leaders who can think for themselves, leaders who put their American pride ahead of partisan talking points. And Question Time will call on leaders to listen to concerns, to consider their own ideas, and to lead the country forward.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation about No Labels’ proposed congressional rules reforms.


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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons