Article I, section 6 of the U.S. Constitution provides that for “any Speech or Debate in either House” of Congress, members “shall not be questioned in any other Place.” It would be nice to think that, cloaked in this immunity, our Congress could truly be one of the world’s great deliberative bodies, but how often does CSPAN capture even a hint of lucid and original, much less courageous, expression on the floor of either chamber? Even if the inclination where there, the opportunity is seldom presented. In the Senate, a determined minority of members can prevent a floor debate on any measure that lacks broad bipartisan support, and in the House the majority leadership will not allow any bill that it does not already have the votes to pass (or on which it simply wishes to stage a sham vote for PR purposes) to reach the floor.
Lately the supression of robust debate has been extended to the committee rooms and hallways, guaranteeing that disruptive ideas will never bubble to the surface. Shortly before the election Republicans pressured the nonpartisan Congressional Research Office to withdraw a report that found no empirical evidence of a correlation between top marginal tax rates and economic growth. And last week the Republican Study Committee — “a group House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives”— found itself at the receiving end of such pressures when it released a paper raising the heretical notion that legislation extending copyright terms and toughening remedies for copyright infringement has crossed the line to where it is actually detrimental to the Constitutional purpose to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Reportedly, the paper—a non-binding “policy brief”—was withdrawn and removed from the RSC website in less than a day in response to complaints from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
Fortunately, samizdat copies of the paper are still circulating and I have linked to one here. It is less interesting for its ideas, most of which have been espoused elsewhere more forcefully, than for its source. Who would have expected some of the most conservative members of the House to express regret that copyright law has “retarded the creation of a robust DJ/Remix industry”? Perhaps this was intended as a starting point for Republican outreach to demographic groups that voted so decisively against the GOP on November 6th.