Students Learn the Fine Art of Legislative Compromise

November 26, 2012 — This fall, 12 students from Visiting Professor Dakota Rudesill’s Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic met around a conference table to amend the War Powers Resolution.

Of course, they weren’t really senators and they weren’t really amending the War Powers Resolution. They were in an intensive, three-week legislative simulation, doing all the necessary drafting, politicking, negotiating and speaking that senators do in order to get a piece of legislation to pass. 

The 1973 statute — the real one — provides that the president shall “consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities.” But for decades, presidents have said the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional. 

So on this particular Tuesday the student playing the committee chairman introduced legislation that would require the president to consult with a powerful new congressional committee before putting U.S. troops in harm’s way.  

“We think Congress should have greater input in determinations over whether to involve our country in military conflicts overseas,” said the “chairman,” a fictional Democrat from Rhode Island. 

Other “senators” at the table objected. “My time in the executive branch and serving in the Coast Guard has convinced me that the executive is the sole organ of America’s foreign policy,” said the committee's senior Republican or “ranking member,” a fictional senator from Georgia.

Rudesill, who served as the simulation organizer, clinic professor and "committee clerk" during the event, says the point is “to get the students into the shoes and into the heads” of the real lawmakers to whom they advocate in the clinic. 

Dean William M. Treanor, reprising the role of the U.S. president that he performed last spring to rave reviews in a national security law simulation, issued a veto threat in his latest incarnation, based on two provisions of the bill. This meant that students had to decide whether to revise the provisions and avoid a veto or try to override it. They attempted the former, and the legislation eventually “passed.” 

“Let me tell you what compromise shouldn’t be,” said the “chairman,” who like other students, seemed to enjoy his role. “It shouldn’t be about cobbling together a Frankenstein bill that in trying to please everyone doesn’t get anything done.”

Hmmm. Is anyone listening?