The Hill is Alive With the Sound of Hearings

Courtesy Reuters

Elections do make a difference. The dramatic results of last November's midterm elections catapulted Democrats to majority status in both the House and the Senate and abruptly awakened the somnolent first branch of government.

In the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, we documented and decried the collapse of congressional oversight of the executive across a range of issues, especially foreign and national security policy. The costs of Congress' checking out had been staggering. With little or no midcourse corrections in decision-making and implementation of measures which might well had followed vigorous oversight, policy had been largely adrift. Sometimes--as with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina--the consequences were disastrous.

We anticipated that a Democratic takeover of Congress would certainly usher in aggressive challenges to executive actions, including demands for information, subpoenas for committee appearances, and constitutional confrontations. Less certain was how serious, informed, and constructive congressional oversight of the executive would be under a new divided-party government and whether it would translate into wiser policy and more effective implementation of it.

As the new Congress approaches its 100th day, what can we say of its record in fixing the problems that ailed the legislative branch? Steps taken by the Democratic majority at the beginning of the year--setting a target of five-day work weeks, making some changes in ethics rules, and approving a set of parliamentary rules designed to end abuses in the conference process and on the House floor--are encouraging. But in each case, the jury remains out. Congressional leaders are encountering resistance from members on the intensive schedule on Capitol Hill; it will not be easy to sustain the fast pace at which the new Congress set off. The House has yet to pass its version of the Senate bill to amend the Lobbying Disclosure Act. And a bipartisan House task force continues to wrestle with proposals for strengthening the ethics adjudication and enforcement process.

Neither chamber has yet returned to regular order. Promises to deliver an initial "100 hour" agenda, pass

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