By Ralph Nader
Earlier this month I wrote a column listing twelve major redirections or reforms that most people want for our country (see: “It’s Your Congress, People!” Make it work for you!). All of which require action by Congress—the gate-keeper. Now Congress must hold informative and investigative public hearings to inform the media and to alert and empower the people.
The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) explains a Congressional Hearing as follows:
“A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest.
“Here are my suggestions for a dozen long-overdue hearings in the House of Representatives, now run by the Democrats:
1. Hearings on the corporate crime wave, which is often reported by the mass media. Yet Congress, marinated in corporate campaign cash, has ignored, if not aided and abetted, corporate criminals for many years. Hearings on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse must be a top priority (see more at corporatecrimereporter.com).
2. Hearings on the causes of poverty – e.g. the frozen minimum wage, tens of millions uninsured or underinsured for health care, unaffordable housing, criminal justice reform, and low utilization of tort law. These hearings will address public outrage about how our rich country treats the poor among us.
3. Hearings on the need to fund the small Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) to provide in-house advice to Congress about big technological/scientific decisions – whether the boondoggle ballistic missile defense, electromagnetic or cyber-attacks, driverless car hype, runaway artificial intelligence, nanotech, biotech (see: Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us) and many other unassessed innovations— are key.
4. Hearings on the overwhelming tilt into speculation, rather than investment, by the financial markets (e.g. Wall Street). The focus on speculation can cause grossly unproductive investments in the form of stock buybacks and off-the-charts executive compensation, which weaken the economy and keep shareholders (who are not allowed to vote on such decisions by their own overpaid hired managers) powerless. These matters need Congressional Review.
5. Hearings on consumer protection – the myriad of recent controls and manipulation of consumers and their spending, savings and credit, along with the first real investigation of contract fine-print servitude or peonage. All topics neglected by Congressional Committees.
6. Hearings on fundamental reform of our tax laws. Aggressively examining our tax laws’ perverse incentives, unjust escapes, privileges and immunities, and estimated (by the IRS) $400 billion a year of uncollected tax revenue will enlighten taxpayers and members of Congress. A hearing on this is long overdue.
7. Hearings reviewing and evaluating our failed military and foreign policies – their costs, their boomerangs, and their unlawful violent impact on innocent peoples and communities abroad are vital.
8. Hearings on the planet’s environmental disruptions from the climate crisis to water usage, to soil erosion, deforestation, and the oceans’ pollution and deoxygenation could increase grassroots action.
9. Hearings on electoral reforms – dealing with campaign finance corruption to gerrymandering, to voter repression, ballot access obstruction, unequal treatments, and more might really help to “drain the swamp.”
10. Hearings on needed and unneeded government-funded and operated projects, including varieties of infrastructure or public works and how to make them more efficient and clean will make the case for rebuilding our communities.
11. Hearings on shifts of power from the few to the many, so long denied and abused will help empower the people to more easily band together as workers, consumers, small taxpayers, voters, litigants and as audiences of the public airwaves and cable channels.
12. Hearings on the benefits of opening up an increasingly closed Congress, with concentrated power in the four leaders of the House and Senate at the expense of committee and subcommittee chairs as well as individual members. Doing so will help make Congress more accountable for the people. When Congress cuts budgets for Committees and advisory institutions, such as the Congressional Research Service and the GAO, it becomes more reliant on corporate lobbyists. These lobbyists work as Congressional staffers before they return to their corrupt influence peddling (the so-called K Street crowd). See: “Why is Congress so dumb?” by Congressman Bill Pascrell in the Washington Post). It also needs to be emphasized that routine Appropriations hearings in both House and Senate must step up mightily to exercise far bolder their supervision of Executive branch departments and agencies. (The Senate’s confirmation hearings on nominated judges and high officials must also be far more rigorous and open to more witnesses to testify).
There you have it – people, citizens, voters, students and teachers. We need these and other such Congressional hearings to make up for the years of deliberate inaction and avoidance. Send your Senators and Representative your suggestions and the above list. Demand more production from their $5 billion a year Congressional budget.
United States Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.