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Question Time in Congress?

2:21 PM, May 19, 2008 • By JAIME SNEIDER
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Although it's not getting much play in the states, the British media is picking up John McCain's proposal for an American Prime Minister's Questions.

In a speech in Columbus Ohio, he will say: "I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons."

He will add: "When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them."

I'm a big fan of PMQs and catch it nearly every week, but I have a few reservations. First, it would be a mistake for the president to do this more than once a month. Daniel Finkelstein has experience in these matters, and he observes, "William Hague spent what amounted to about 75 percent of one working day a week preparing to ask his questions. And senior staff spent even more time than that." That is simply too much time for the president and his staff to spend each week. Perhaps President McCain could do 10 such sessions a year, skipping August (when nobody in Congress is around) and January (when the president generally delivers the State of the Union).

Aside from the time the president will have to devote, I'm also concerned the questions will be used to push special interests instead of the national agenda. Anyone who watches PMQs knows the vast majority of each session is spent hectoring the Prime Minister about why bureaucracy X has failed to remedy local problem Y. Such inquiries are one step away (at most) from the pork barrel spending McCain deplores, and I fear he will look like a grouch if he is put in the position of constantly pooh poohing the use of federal funds.

Then again, McCain could use these sessions to raise the profile of wasteful projects and the congressmen who support them--"to make them famous," as he mischievously puts it. And McCain's proposal would be a healthy change from the Bush administration, whose default position was too often not to dignify the opposition with a response.