A process for developing the basis for major legislation
We should have a non-partisan process within the Democratic Party to be sure
we understand major issues before we draft or take a position on major
legislation. In the past, the Democratic Study Group (DSG) provided top
notch policy analysis for daily use by Members, but it has been defunct since
1995 when Republicans axed it. Why not resurrect it in a more powerful
form? Here is my proposal...
Re-establish the DSG, but instead of staffers doing the analysis, have the
staff co-ordinate a process that brings together top experts together in the
same room to discuss and render opinions on major issues. This would be much more
effective than having individual lawmakers (and staff members) trying to
synthesize responsible policy from individual sources and trying to reconcile the conflicts
themselves. It would lead to more ideas and hopefully better policies. At a
minimum, it would give lawmakers a neutral, third-party, expert analysis of
major issues and thus provide an important foundation on which lawmakers
could craft major policy/legislation.
Unfortunately, we aren't doing our policy this way today. When Bush made his
stem cell decision, he didn't appoint a non-partisan committee to provide input
on the pros and cons. He tried to synthesize all the conflicting inputs himself.
Energy policy is another perfect example: a secret committee that selectively
listened to input determined the policy that went in front of the House.
How can we possibly create a responsible short term energy plan for America
if we have no clear vision of the long term? The answer of course is that we
can't. More importantly, our top experts have never had a venue for meeting to
provide us input. So we try to synthesize the result from guessing, rather than
convening our brightest minds in one room to hash out the issues.
So what prevents us from adopting the process
below? I think nothing. In fact, I'm working with Congress now to do this with
energy policy. So it can be done. If we can do this for energy, why can't we do it for other key policies?
- DSG staffers do preliminary research to frame the core issues and points
- DSG staffers determine 6 to 10
of the best people in the country on the topic
- The group convenes for 1 day in Washington, DC. Staffers and interested
Members are invited to attend. The group is tasked with addressing the
problem at hand, e.g., "we've received conflicting input on whether drilling in ANWR
is necessary to reduce
dependence on foreign oil. Here is the conflicting data we have. What is
- For major issues, such as energy, a more extensive agenda should be
employed. For example, for energy it might be determining a long term vision, as well as a short and long-term strategy to achieve that vision.
In the case, a possible process would be to have the group:
- Meet amongst themselves to determine a strawman
position (vision, goals, strategy)
- Listen to input from other experts in the
topic area, ideally representing all major constituencies. The team
should select this group. Some topics may require several rounds of
input (progressive refinement of the position), e.g., first from a group
of 30 to refine the position, then open it up to a wider audience.
- The group should always render a final report, but it is critical that we
do not require consensus since the whole point is to understand where the
experts stand on the issues. Where there is a
disagreement, it should be noted in the final report (as in a Supreme Court decision). Example:
- "8 of us think the renewable goal should be 20% in 10 years;
2 of us think the goal should be higher at 40%; all 10 of us think
it should be at least 10% in 10 years.
- 3 of us think wind should comprise 80% of the power generated in
10 years; 9 of us think wind should be at least 25% of the energy
mix in 20 years; all 10 think wind should comprise at least 10% of
our power 10 years from now
- The final report from this group is then used as a basis for the creation
of legislation and policy by our elected representatives. It can also be
adopted and promoted to the public by special interest groups (unlike a
report from Democratic staffers which would be viewed as partisan). If the
credentials of the expert panel is unimpeachable, such a report can be a
powerful rallying point because it can help the public resolve the
conflicting data that they hear.
Why "blue-ribbon panels" have failed in the past
- the committees are too big to get anything done
- the committees are usually populated with people chosen for political
- the panel is tasked with coming to a consensus, but the problems don't
yield themselves to consensus
- a responsible solution (from the committee) and a politically viable
solution are many times at odds
- lawmakers may ignore the work of the committee due to: (a) political
reasons (b) they consider the committee report to be one more data point
Why this approach would avoid those problems
- keep the committee to under 10 people total
- appoint the best people in the country (rather than return political
- actually use the results (too many blue-ribbon panelists have been soured
because their final report is ignored)
- the committee is not directed to achieve consensus; it's goal is to
elucidate the possible approaches and describe the implications of
- ensure that the committee seriously listens to and considers input from
all constituencies (30 to 50 qualified input sources)