more idealistic, impractical ranting

Observing the bloody fray that is U.S. health care reform, Andrew is about as fed up as I am: “the way we write legislation is stupid,” he notes.

I couldn’t agree more. And tonight, it seems that the only means I have to make myself feel better about this smoking train wreck that is our government is to re-imagine it a little bit.

Since the American people already expect a clear legislative agenda from their presidential candidates, let’s go ahead and let the president drive the legislative process, and restructure the rest of the government to complement that approach:

  • The chief executive forms committees of aides and invited experts in fields relevant to the legislative agenda, and the committees draft bills to advance that agenda, in clear accordance with the campaign issues that the American people paid attention to and voted on.
  • Turn the entire Legislative Branch into something new: call it the Representative Branch, maybe. Keep this branch ideologically balanced: one representative per state from each major party (define a “major party” as, say, one that can claim something like 10% of registered voters in all 50 states). The representatives lobby the president’s legislative committees to help ensure sure the interests of their constituents are being heard, and communicate with these constituents about what’s taking shape in the legislation. (It goes without saying, of course, that any draft legislation should be available to the public at the very earliest stages and offer opportunities for comment as well.) Allow a two-thirds majority of the representatives to torpedo a draft bill as something that’s not truly in the interest of the American public.
  • Expand the role of the Supreme Court: if the Representative Branch can’t get the votes to reject a bill, it goes to the Supreme Court for a Constitutionality Review. Either a bill pass this review and becomes law, or it goes back to the President’s legislative committees. The Court could still hear cases where the Constitutionality of existing laws is challenged, but review of new legislation would become its essential function. (Noted: Presidential appointment of Supreme Court Justices will probably need to change under this model).

Today, we have a situation where the desired direction for the country is pretty clearly expressed in the presidential elections, but then Congress turns everything to shit by either starting off with legislation that does really not jibe with that desired direction, or by failing to generate the bipartisan support it needs to pass anything of substance. (We’re actually seeing both of these problems in the current health care debacle.)

In my proposed model above, Congress doesn’t get that opportunity. In the default case, legislation based on campaign promises should sail through the Representative review process, while strictly partisan objections will simply fall by the wayside. If the president’s legislative submissions clearly diverge from the campaign promises, the a bipartisan coalition can be built to prevent their passage, with the added security of a Constitutionality check before any bill becomes law.

Something about that just feels right. I’m batshit crazy, probably, but I’ll need you to tell me why.

folks before you had this to say:

  1. Andrew Dupont

    I’ve got no beef with any of those proposals, but there are ways to fix the sausage-making process without substantial government overhaul.

    For instance, nothing would stop a friendly Congressman from introducing a bill that quotes, verbatim, whatever the President scrawls on a cocktail napkin. And there’s nothing preventing the rest of the Democratic caucus from saying “fuck off” to Max Baucus, except for politeness.

    In truth, I don’t know what the hold-up is. Get H.R. 3200 and its equivalent in the Senate (from the HELP committee) onto the floor for votes. If the Senate filibusters, push it through via reconciliation. Conference committee, another floor vote, and we’re done. The dynamics of the fight will only get less favorable over time.

  2. Chris Kardos

    It seems odd to me for a president to spend years campaigning on all the changes you are going to make to this country… and then you get there and everyone you work with is like “we’re going to make it EXTREMELY difficult for you to achieve your goals” (that a majority of the country wanted by voting for him in the first place…) NUTS! I’m sick of the whole thing really.

  3. Rob

    …nothing would stop a friendly Congressman from introducing a bill that quotes, verbatim, whatever the President scrawls on a cocktail napkin.

    I think what’s stopping them is, in fact, their enormous egos.

    In my pre-developer life as an environmental PR consultant, I got to hang around my fair share of state legislators. A whole lot of them are damned smug people who think they’re the really powerful people in government, and that the executive leader (be it a governor or a president) is just a pretty face with above-average teleprompter skills. I can only imagine how much the effect is magnified at the federal level.

  4. patrick

    I’m more of an incrementalist. Massive overhauls of anything result in too great a ripple effect into areas that are supposed to be unaffected.

    Rather than a complete Constitutional overhaul, which your proposals would require (or not, given the way Congress has shirked responsibilities over the last 40 years), take a minimalist approach and start with term limits. Then simplify the tax code. Then roll back executive powers on things like military actions. And so forth.

    It might take longer, but it will be an easier pill for the American people (and our society) to swallow.

  5. Andrew Dupont

    OK, Rob, here’s a more thorough assessment of what you’re proposing:

    I agree that the President should often be the prime mover of legislation. But individuals in Congress should retain the power to introduce their own bills — after all, good ideas (just like crappy ideas) come from a lot of places, and the voting process acts as an idea marketplace.

    I would retain a bicameral legislature, but replace the Senate with a different body that employs proportional representation. So you’d have the House, in which each legislator represents a piece of land and its inhabitants; and the SuperCool GigaChamber (pending trademark), in which each legislator represents the interests of his national party. This gets you coalition-building, but keeps the bar for passage from sinking too low. (It shouldn’t be excessively hard to pass laws, but nor should it be excessively easy.)

    Can’t say I agree on your view of the Supreme Court. Prior review of each law before passage would be quite a workload. The current system is much like the “flag for review” option on Flickr — imagine if, instead, a human Flickr employee had to greenlight photos before upload. I might change small things about how the Supreme Court has interpreted precedents — I think they’re too quick to decline review of a case because of a perceived lack of standing on the plaintiff’s part — but overall I wouldn’t monkey with it much.

got something to say about that?

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