“A government by free and open discussion”

Let us recall one of Schmitt’s main claims: Parliamentarism is rooted in the principle that government should proceed through free and open discussion. This is the reason, for instance, why parliamentary systems have instituted things like checks and balances, principles regarding the independence of representatives (i.e., the idea that the representative should be free of external influence/control), and the openness of parliamentary sessions. All of these practices, Schmitt tells us, are designed to ensure that decisions are the result of free and open discussion, not mere force.

In this context, I present to you this discussion of the health care bill (the American Health Care Act, or AHCA) that is going to be voted on today. For our purposes the key part is the second section of this article, entitled “Shock and Awe as Legislative Strategy.” As the article makes clear, the Republican strategy in passing this bill has been to keep most of its details secret. The bill was drafted (we don’t know by whom) and made public only two weeks ago. There has been no effort to persuade Democrats to support this legislation, and rather little effort to persuade the public it is a good idea. A new major set of amendments were added to it last night (they were the result of negotiations between the House leadership and the “Freedom Caucus,” which is a group of conservative Republicans). The bill has been scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. However, these amendments have not been. The content and their effects remain unknown. Which is to say, the U.S. Congress is literally about to vote on a piece of legislation that affects the health care of millions of Americans (probably all Americans, in one way or another) without making any effort to persuade anyone that the legislation is good, and without having any real idea what the legislation is actually going to do.

Lanhee Chen, who is a member of the Hoover Institute (a conservative think tank) and the former policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, explicitly acknowledges this, but also doesn’t see it as a problem. From the linked article:

The Republican leadership has made a decision that time is of the essence here. Now, would it be great to have all the information we need in place while or before we have these discussions? In an ideal world, yes. But I also think that runs up against the reality that the deeper we go into this process, the harder it will be to achieve certain policy and political goals.

Such a statement is frankly astonishing, at least if one believes in the principle of parliamentary government. If you are a believer in parliamentarism, having “all the information we need” isn’t a luxury in a situation like this. It’s the essential thing necessary for this system of government to work.

The author of the article is concerned that this preoccupation with speed and the fact that no one really knows what the bill is going to do means that the legislation will likely be ineffective; if it passes, it will likely not have much support. But I want to flag a different problem: we now have members of our representative body, including the leadership of that body, who don’t think it’s actually necessary to argue the legislation on the merits and who do not even think it’s necessary to understand it. That, it seems to me, is symptomatic of the kind of crisis Schmitt is trying to diagnose.

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2 Responses to “A government by free and open discussion”

  1. agasanova says:

    I feel like there is one significant thing in common with this whole presidential term. No one knows what’s really going to happen. Sure there are tons of the stuff Trump has said that he would do, yet he hasn’t or has completely taken a different route. You mentioned how no one really knows what this healthcare bill would do, and you’re right. For all we know, it could change every single hospital, or change nothing at all. I think one of the main reasons why it was rejected from congress is because no one really advocated for it, even the republicans themselves.

    • jlau4 says:

      Statements like the one from Chen prove Schmidt’s point on how current parliamentarism is only an empty formality. Chen doesn’t care for what the people have to say, he probably doesn’t want to put the effort to gather all that information either. For him and his team politically, it’s better if there isn’t as much public discussion so they can operate fairly unrestricted without the oversight of input from their constituents… Which is pretty awful and breaks the very principles of a representative government. The scariest part is I’m sure he isn’t the only American politician to think this way, and that most of those who do would lie to the very people they promised to serve. If free and open discussion continues to die and politicians continue to distance themselves from the citizens, then there is now possible way we can call ourselves democratic.

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