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Posted at 4:26 PM ET, 01/18/2011

What debate?

By Ezra Klein

I'm watching the House debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act and it's ... depressing. Not the content, though that has its ups and downs. The structure. Each representative gets a minute to speak before they yield the floor. Few -- if any -- get to talk twice. It's insulting both to them -- they're members of Congress, after all -- and to us. There's no debate here. No exchange of views. No probing of weak arguments. Just a lot of quick and poorly written sound bites, one after the other, over and over again. It would be much better for both sides if they each nominated two or three members to conduct the discussion, and let them go at it for a few hours. I don't know whether people would watch that in greater numbers than they'll watch this. But those who were watching -- both in the chamber and outside it -- might actually learn something.

If that sort of discussion sounds like something you might like to watch, this debate, pitting former CBO director Doug Holtz-Eakin and former-representative John Shadegg against TNR's Jon Cohn and Princeton's Paul Starr, is a much better use of your time.

By Ezra Klein  | January 18, 2011; 4:26 PM ET
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Decide for yourself.

Here is the c-span link:

They have 7 hours for debate.

Posted by: RisingTideLiftsAllBoats | January 18, 2011 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Have our Reps now conflated twitter with floor debate?


Posted by: chrisgaun | January 18, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Members of Congress don't debate in any meaningful sense anyway, i.e., the debate doesn't affect how they vote, so the one-minute limit doesn't actually matter.

That's what is so frustrating about the Senate rules negotiations; the rules are ostensibly designed to preserve time for "debate," but debate is just a proxy for delay, and delay is how you stifle what you don't want to get what you do want.

Just tee it up and vote.

Posted by: Porchland | January 18, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

A while back (June 19, 2009; 4:30 PM ET), we learned that "The House is not a perfectly representative body, but it's pretty representative. Particularly compared with the Senate. Its membership is a function of the population (so where California has two Senate seats and Montana has two Senate seats, California has 53 representatives while Montana has one). Each member represents fewer constituents and so, at least in theory, is more closely attuned to their preferences. Elections come every two years rather than every six, and so representatives cannot trust that their votes on large bills will be forgotten by the time their next election rolls around. There is no filibuster that can be used to insulate the views of the minority or excuse the failures of the majority." [...] "These policies may not be able to pass the upper chamber. But it's noteworthy that the House leadership clearly thinks them defensible in elections across the country."

That was Ezra Klein, back when the House was "good" and the Senate was "bad". Since that time, we've had both debate and an election. Many of the folks who drafted, examined, and supported the PPACA are now gone and "it's noteworthy that the House leadership" which clearly thought the PPACA to be "defensible in elections across the country" were as correct about that assessment as they were about the PPACA's cost -- which is to say that they were incorrect on both counts.

It's also interesting to note that PPACA proponents remaining in the House have today called the Act the "Patient Protection Act" rather than the "Affordable Care Act". If nothing more, the shift from the "affordable" song-and-dance is now on the record.

Posted by: rmgregory | January 18, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

In every district there's a local news, at 6 and 11, or 6 and 10, and if you're not on it, someone else is. They have three minutes and forty-five seconds for national news with a local hook to fill, and if you're not on it, someone else is.

Welcome to the permanent campaign.

Posted by: davis_x_machina | January 18, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Isn't this the norm for debate in the House? I used to be somewhat of a C-Span junkie, but no longer am. But here is a description of House debate from a Senate document comparing the two houses (see page 8 of PDF):

House debate nearly always takes place under some form of time restriction. There is the “one-hour” rule for debate in the House (Rule XVII, clause 2), and the “five-minute” rule during the amendment process in the Committee of the Whole
(Rule XVIII, clause 5(a)). Debate is limited to forty minutes for bills considered under the suspension of the rules procedure. Special rules can impose time restrictions on debate, and rule-making provisions in statutes often limit debate on certain types of measures such as budget resolutions.

Time restrictions make it difficult for individual Representatives to get debate time on the floor. When Members are accorded debate time, they rarely receive more than two to five minutes. Representatives can be recognized to speak for up to five
minutes during the “morning hour” debates before legislative business commences on Mondays and Tuesdays, for “one-minute” speeches (at the Speaker’s discretion and usually at the beginning of the legislative session), and for “special order”
speeches of a specified length (ordinarily at the end of the day).

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 18, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Ezra is shocked....SHOCKED , I SAY.

However, where was Ezra et al when ObamaCare was crammed down our throats through reconciliation? Where was the whining then?

*Then* it was clever how they Dems mowed over any and all opposition. How Nancy told us that we would find out what was in the bill *after* it passed. How none of the Dems even READ the bill. It was clever and smart then.

Not so much now, though.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | January 18, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I wrote a very similar post whining about the reality of congressional debate when the bill passed the first time. And to Rmgregory's point, nothing about my post here precludes my preference for the House's rules and composition over the Senate's rules and composition. I just think the House should also host smarter debates.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | January 18, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Please link to a post showing that you objected to the way the bill was passed.

Posted by: truck1 | January 19, 2011 7:30 AM | Report abuse

huh? what revisionist history are the righties trying to peddle here? First, it wasn't passed through reconciliation. It passed the senate by 60 votes. And second, it was always called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There's no walk back on the affordable part implicit in the Dems shifting to focusing on the patient protections. It's smart political calculus. Millions of Americans are experiencing the protection AND cost savings right now, which severely undermines the GOP's efforts to demonize it. Plus, the GOP spin about "Job Killing" er, "Job Destroying" is a lie, as usual.

Now, the GOP, or at least some of them, claim there was never a problem with health care. It was "fixed" by HIPPA in 1996. Good luck pushing the "it wasn't broken" lie.

Posted by: GreenDreams | January 19, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

"It would be much better for both sides if they each nominated two or three members to conduct the discussion, and let them go at it for a few hours."

Not when you have a couple of hundred members who want that minute of facetime (davis_x's point). This isn't surprising: the House hasn't done "debate" in a very long time, and the Senate barely comes near it. If you want to see actual debating, watch another country's parliament in progress.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | January 19, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

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