Practical Steps to Limiting Government: Required Reading Edition


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar ChrisWWW says:

    Good ideas, although I’m not sure it will ever be possible to force legislators to read bills or limit their length. Limiting the scope of legislation seems reasonable though.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to ChrisWWW says:

      I think of form poetry. I think – the form causes you to really craft your poetry. You have so many syllables. You have so many lines. Maybe you even have to rhyme a bit. You have limits, and those limits force your hand, and often force you to really create poetry you wouldn’t have done if given free reign.

      Now, this can apply to life in general quite easily. We, as people, should apply limits to ourselves, and we often have limits imposed on us (gravity is a blessing; so is the lack of fabulous riches I’d say, for most of us…). The government should be so constricted. Laws should not be free verse, they should follow some set limits. If you can’t pass a good bill in ten pages or less (to conjure up a number out of thin air) then maybe you shouldn’t pass it at all….

      But practically speaking, I don’t know how hard it would be to get this pushed. I think it would be very, very popular across the board with voters, and very, very unpopular with congressmen.

      That says something about our “representative democracy” eh?Report

  2. Avatar BCChase says:

    But could you actually get a bill like this passed through congress now? Every politician uses those kind of amendments to get pet projects for their constituencies through, and to horse-trade with other politicians. They would strenuously resist this limitation on the process. My question is, are there other practical ways to improve government that we could actually get passed in the near-term? I don’t think this qualifies, although I wish it did.Report

  3. Avatar Francis says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake. It’s not like no one has ever thought of this before.

    Please wend your way over to the US Constitution. Take a look at Art. I, section V “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings”.

    Under the Constition, the Rules Committee set the rules for each session. You want to impose restrictions on the authority of the Rules Committee? Amend the Constitution.

    Next, assuming you have a “single subject” rule, think about how a challenge under such a law would be brought. Would any citizen have standing, or just a Member of the House or Senate? Original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court or would a lower court have to conduct fact-finding? Could judicial challenges be brought to individual amendments during the legislative process, or only to the final engrossed bill? Would the challenge lie only to those sections in the engrossed bill that are not “germane”? Is germanity determined by the face of the bill only? Legislative intent? Can legislators be deposed what they meant by their legislative intent?

    There’s a good reason why courts don’t touch so-called “political questions”. Courts are supposed to be co-equal to the Legislative Branches, not their nanny. These questions are not subject to judicial resolution.

    Don’t like your government? Hire a different one.

    And before you point fingers solely at the Dems, research the passage of Medicare Part D.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Francis says:

      That’s right. I was blaming the Democrats.Report

    • Avatar BCChase in reply to Francis says:

      “Hire a different one” is a nonserious, unhelpful response that doesn’t engage the problem. It’s not even smart snark.
      My understanding: in the current system, the judiciary determines if a congressional law has violated the precepts of the constitution. So if the “one-subject” rule were imposed via amendment, then these would be judiciary questions. If it were not, and this was imposed by law or by Rules Committee, there would be different oversight mechanisms. But it is not impossible to imagine an outline for what such mechanisms might look like. If I thought doing so would enhance the chances of such a law being passed, I would give more thought to it.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to BCChase says:

        Good point BCChase. Look, if people want to refine these ideas, or put out some counter-proposals, I’m all for that. I’m not a wonk.

        And I realize a lot of my ideas might not even be that original. Then again, original is not necessarily the best. Sometimes you just have to think through other people’s ideas and expand on them. I’m trying to lay the case for more simple, more limited government. Should we not attempt to do that? Do we feel better represented by a congress that writes these awful, bloated, convoluted laws? Or would we prefer to understand and have our lawmakers understand these policies?

        Smart government is almost always also lean, limited, and responsive. That is not what we have, under either party at this time.Report

        • Avatar Ryan in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          “Smart government is almost always also lean, limited, and responsive.”

          I disagree two-thirds-heartedly. Smart government is probably almost always responsive, but I object to the idea that government needs to be particularly limited to be smart. The biggest problem with our government is that it is full of people who themselves aren’t very smart, and they’re (in large part) disingenuous to boot.

          “Hire a different one” may be somewhat unhelpful, but it’s probably the only truly sensible solution. Our political history is so full of warnings that the system has to be set up to thwart the baser instincts of our nature (and that works somewhat – thanks Madison!) that we forget how much the people who set up the system were dedicated to governing well. As long as people like Michelle Bachmann – who is such a stupid, small, wicked moron that she shouldn’t be allowed in your living room, let alone Congress – are in charge, no amount of good rulemaking is going to be able to combat the fact that our leaders are just not very smart or very good people.Report

  4. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    E.D. your writing is becoming more and more erudite! Re: gummint, how about we quit it ‘cold turkey.’ Kinda like a return to the era of the beloved tertium quids. You can tell me why that can’t be.
    Also, as some astute commentator mentioned above, until we stupid Americans learn to vote 3rd, 4th, and 5th party we’re doomed to be whores for the Dempublicans!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Bob, you know – I think if we could, that’d be fantastic. I mean, I think I’d like to keep my local government and just hold the fact that we quit the federal government over their head. They’d be pretty responsive after that, methinks. But honestly, scrolling through the house resolutions today I wanted to laugh (or cry) at the sheer nonsense of it.

      And then there’s these wars and what-not. And the bailouts.

      …list goes on and on…Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        E.D., I do want to apologize to you kids re:the gov’t the people my age are leaving you guys, particularly once His Holiness is done with you. Revolution may look pretty good.Report

  5. Avatar Francis says:

    Ideas on practical ways to limit [federal] government:

    None. You’re way outvoted on this issue. Any serious proposal to limit federal government power either procedurally or substantively gets about 0% of the votes.

    Looking at the issue from the point of taxes, the only programs that matter are the Big 5: Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid/Interest on Treasury Debt/DOD and related programs.

    Entitlement programs are incredibly popular. Moreover, no one has a really good alternative that’s cheaper. And before anyone raises means-testing, let’s remember that income-based means testing is bad enough, but wealth-based means testing would be a combination of a protocological exam, a tax audit and the bite of a pit bull.

    On a regulatory basis, state and local agencies are far more intrusive than the feds (although occasionally under delegation of federal law — see the Clean Water Act). But capturing interstate externalities (air and water pollution, CO2 emission, hazardous waste, habitat destruction, etc.) is what I want our federal government to do. As do millions of fellow Americans.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

      Anything that cannot go on forever will, eventually, stop.Report

    • Avatar BCChase in reply to Francis says:

      I don’t disagree with a lot of your opinions on what the federal government should do – I’m more liberal than E.D. But one thing I definitely agree with him on is the federal government is inefficient, wasteful, and often governs even the things I want it to very badly. In this respect, I think it is only getting worse. I think they could perform a lot of their needed regulatory functions without a lot of the bloat. I’m interested in good suggestions for fighting it. Because I suspect that if the government continues to balloon, and continues to be filled with only some competent people, instead of most or all, eventually there will be a violent response (in terms of magnitude, not physical harm). I want to avoid that for my country, but I am cynical enough to realize, as you say, it may be impossible.

      Entropy, in the end, makes fools of us all, in my government and in my apartment.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle says:

    I gotta say I love the idea.

    Obviously there are many good ideas that are politically impractical, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that you make a good critique. Though, I think the issue of not reading landmark and large pieces of legislation is more offensive than passing harmless resolutions. (A staffer wrote them, there’s maybe a five minute speech, and then done) I don’t think limiting or slowing resolutions honouring days/contributions/people, in any meaningful way limits the size or performance of government.

    Personally, I”ve always wondered if we’d get better or worst laws if we simply sequestered the Congress during the legislative session. No lobbyists, no 24 hour news cycle, no grassroots phonebanking.Report

  7. Avatar ChrisWWW says:

    This morning at Why We Worry I posted a response / addition to this post. My three ideas to take reducing government a step further would be to:

    * Re-institute Pay-as-you-go

    * Publicly finance elections

    * End gerrymandering of districtsReport

  8. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    Get rid of air conditioning in the Capitol.Report

  9. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    On a serious note (though why do I always get the insipid smiley with the tongue?), Randy Barnett’s proposed federalism amendment would be a watershed in federal reform: