Establish a pilot for weekly Oxford-style debates on the House floor to be managed by a task force of bipartisan Members established by majority and minority leadership and selected from Members of relevant Member Organizations.
Oxford-style debate formats feature a debate on a predetermined topic from two opposing perspectives. The two sides argue either for or against the topic, within a structured format. Weekly Oxford-style debates focusing on national issues would demonstrate that Congress takes the Article One principle of debate and deliberation seriously, and that Members can grapple with important problems while maintaining civility. Debates would also showcase Members with policy expertise and encourage a broader national conversation.
A bipartisan working group could determine debate topics, pick teams of Members to argue either side of an issue, and schedule the debates throughout the session. The debates should begin on topics that cut across party lines to demonstrate bipartisan consensus on certain issues.
This was recommended by the last select committee, the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress in 1993, but their reforms were not implemented. However, the Committee felt strongly that Congress should return to substantial and quality policy debates. Even if only a temporary, pilot program, the Committee recommends this as an important step to improve bipartisan lawmaking and congressional expertise. In describing the value of such debates, Dr. Norman Ornstein noted that:
“… they can show a common understanding of problems and challenges that we face, with our differences over how to surmount them … they can show that not all divisions in the country are Democrats versus Republicans.”
Dr. Norman Ornstein, February 5, 2020