The Washington Post: Mark Penn participates in Washington Post’s “Topic A” on How to Fix the Senate

February 20, 2010

The Washington Post Topic A: How to fix the Senate?

How to Fix the Senate?
The Washington Post asked Mark Penn and others to name one idea — other than reforming the much-discussed filibuster — that might get Congress moving.

CEO of Burson-Marsteller; adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign; pollster and adviser to Bill Clinton from 1995 through 2000.

Ironically, one of the Senate’s greatest issues today stems directly from a most-cherished principle: the separation of powers.

The doctrine was designed to promote checks and balances, so that each branch of government could operate without undue interference from the other. But perhaps one of the biggest problems with the Senate and the government is too much separation at a time when they need more engagement. In short, too much separation can lead to isolation. The health-care plan is a case in point: In 1994, it came from the executive branch; this time, from the legislative branch — but the result is still the same. They needed to create a truly joint plan.

One way to break down these barriers is to have regular Question Time, American-style. Once a week let’s have leaders of both parties in Congress throw questions at the president and have the executive branch respond with its own questions — all on TV, of course. This regular discourse will also restore the Senate to the role it once held as the place where the big issues were discussed by the big thinkers.

Question Time would get our legislators out of their cocoons and force the kind of engagement that it takes to really solve problems.

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