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20 July, 2008 - Legislators Should Talk Less, Listen More

As an occasional viewer of C-Span, I find myself from time to time, watching a live telecast of what seems to be a very popular Capitol Hill exercise, a Congressional hearing. The more I see of these hearings, the more I wonder about the purpose and the outcome. Do members of Congress really learn anything new and does any legislation happen because of the hearings?

It seems to me that just about any event of national importance eventually becomes the subject of a Congressional hearing. We have certainly seen it in agriculture and the food industry with hearings on meat recalls, Salmonella outbreaks in produce, humane treatment of farm animals, Midwest flooding and the emotional subject of allowing horse slaughter in the United States. Outside of agriculture it ranges all the way from grilling the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to putting CEOs of the major oil companies on the hot seat over the price of gasoline.

I wonder how much time and taxpayer money is consumed by the staffs of the various committees and sub-committees to prepare for the hearings. Add to that the time and expense of those called to travel to Washington, D.C. to testify...and for what purpose?

Frankly, I think the main purpose of the hearings is to give members of Congress face-time on television so they can state their political positions and hopefully, impress their constituents watching back home. In the case of the two hearings on gasoline prices, committee members worked hard to outdo their colleagues in grilling and bashing the oil company executives. The way we all feel about energy prices, that had to play well back in the home district. But what happened after the hearings; did gasoline prices drop, did Congress write and enact new legislation that would cut our dependence on expensive foreign energy? I havent seen anything change since the hearings.

Let me share my story of the one time I was called to testify before a House Agriculture Committee, so long ago that I dont even recall the subject. I was really excited when I received the very formal letter of invitation, and of course, I accepted. I was instructed to write my testimony and submit several copies to the Committee staff at least a week before my appearance.

The day of the hearing, staff members instructed me on the hearing protocol and said that Committee members would probably ask questions after my testimony. Well, there were no questions because the Committee members really werent listening; they were talking to their aides or briefly leaving the hearing room or whispering to their House colleagues. The Chairman thanked me when I finished, I received a thank you form letter when I returned home and....nothing ever happened or changed after the hearing!

My advice to Congress...stop hearing, start listening, and start legislating for the good of this country and its citizens.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.


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