The Constitution does not mention congressional committees anywhere in the text, and Congress’ power to create such committees flows out of the power of each House to enact by majority vote the rules that will govern its own proceedings. From the beginning of our history, Congress has used this power to create formidable legislative committees that deal with levels of taxation, spending, and borrowing by the federal government. Today, it is clear that those committees have taxed, spent, and borrowed way too much, often with the goal of benefitting the home states of committee members at the expense of the nation as a whole. Among the six committees that have taxed, spent, and borrowed too much are the two Appropriations Committees, the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Budget Committees. This panel will discuss the idea that future Congresses should provide, by a majority vote of each House at the start of a session of Congress, that appointment of members to the six committees listed above should be by random lottery rather than being based on seniority or the desire of a member to serve on a committee. Membership on these six committees should, as well, be limited to no more than six years. We do not let lower court federal judges pick which cases they get to hear but instead assign cases to them by random lottery. For similar reasons some suggest we ought not to let members of Congress pick which committee a member serves on, but we ought to leave that up to a random lottery as well. They say no-one, whether it be Robert Byrd or Ted Stevens, ought to sit on a taxing, spending, or borrowing committee for longer than six years. Others counter that the loss of expertise and experience in these areas is far too great a cost. Finally, this panel will address the question of entitlement reform and votes on the floor of Congress. The text of the Constitution makes it clear that the Framers expected that Congress would vote for most appropriations on an annualized basis. The Constitution even makes it clear that military appropriations can be for no more than two years. Yet today, and really since the New Deal, we have become accustomed to entitlement programs whereby citizens become “entitled” to a sum of money every year, and Congress is essentially forced to foot the bill. What can we do to reform entitlement programs? How should the raising of the debt ceiling be handled? This panel was featured as Showcase Panel III at the 2011 National Lawyers Convention on November 12, 2011.
Showcase Panel III: Term Limits, Entitlement Reform, and Random Assignment of Members of Congress to Committees
9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
- Prof. Steven G. Calabresi, Class of 1940 Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law and Chairman, The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy
- Prof. William N. Eskridge, Jr., John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence, Yale Law School
- Mr. William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard
- Prof. Jide O. Nzelibe, Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law
- Moderator: Hon. Edith H. Jones, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit
- Introduction: Mr. Dean A. Reuter, Vice President & Director of Practice Groups, The Federalist Society