Eight Steps Towards A Less Dysfunctional Congress

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34 Responses

  1. Avatar cfpete says:

    1) That is all well and good, but I do not see how it relates to reform. (I’m sure Maryland will also love the new K Street influence on their Congressional election.)

    2)Rent office space, make a contribution.

    3)This does eliminate the filibuster outright.

    4)No problem there.

    5)The likely outcome of this is even more gerrymandered districts.

    6)More information is always nice, but politicians only cite the CBO when it is to their benefit. Also, they will surely enact more rules that allow them to game the more empowered CRS.

    7)Good luck with that. The Democrats actually removed term limits for Committee Chairs. The inertia seems to be moving against reform in this area.

    8)I like the idea in theory. However, you are creating more gerrymandered districts in #5. So just throw the 20% liberal Democrats into some other district and Voila! More party line votes.

    Maybe I am just too cynical.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      Can you elaborate on #5?

      6.) Perhaps but citing a CBO number is almost always to somebody’s benefit and it – like the CRS – has a non-partisan authoritativeness that think tanks and industry groups lack. The big CBO rule that allows for gaming the system is that they have to score what’s in the bill not what’s likely. Which doesn’t apply at all to the CRS, so I can’t imagine what kind of rules they would put in place to game CRS reports without undermining the very reason they’re respected/useful in the first place.

      7&8 are more of a package deal, but I think they’re both borderline sisyphean/herculean. I actually don’t think term limits on committee chairmanship is a good idea, chairs develop a strong body of knowledge and expertise in an area and I think that’s probably better than rotation for the sake of rotation.

      The largest two obstacles, in my opinion, to number 7 are that senior members would balk at their seniority meaning less and the majority party wouldn’t be guaranteed chairmanship of all committees. If, however, we were to get a large influx of freshman congressmen in both houses who cared more about advancing their own legislative interests than party domination, I think committee reform would be far, far more likely.

      As for the party line vote issue, I think more ideological votes aren’t necessarily a problem if Congress is more accurately representative.Report

  2. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Some of these are good ideas, some aren’t, but I want to applaud you for leading off with voting rights for DC. Every taxpaying American citizen deserves equal representation in both chambers of the legislature, full stop. Thanks.Report

  3. Avatar Scott says:

    All giving voting right to the folks in DC would do is add more Dems to the congress. That would hardly be an improvement. I can see Senator Marion Barry. That would make congress more of a laughing stock than it already is.

    If you want to fix the congress then you could repeal the 17th amendment, stop the gerrymandering of districts by incumbents, allow campaign fund to be donated only by natural born persons that reside in the congressperson districts or state in case of a senator, stop counting illegal aliens in the census count for apportionment of congressional seats and move the date taxes are due from 4/15 to the day before elections.Report

    • “All giving voting rights to the folks in the colonies would do is add more Colonial-sympathizers to Parliament. That would hardly be an improvement. I can see Samuel Adams, MP. That would make Parliament more of a laughing stock than it already is.”Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      Wait, so citizens who are immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to donate money? Why on earth not?Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        I probably should have said real person not natural born. However, why should non-citizens be able to give money anyway? I meant to phrase it so that only real people and not companies, unions or PACs could give money to a candidate. Let me also add that only those in the congressperson districts or state should be able to give money.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          Ah, I see. Natural-born citizens means people born in the US. So if only natural-born citizens can donate, that means that US citizens who happened to be born in a foreign country wouldn’t be allowed to.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I believe you’re misinterpreting Dan. As I read Scott I believe he’s saying only people would be allowed to donate. Specifically individual people. No PAC’s, no corporations, no unions etc… only individuals.Report

        • Avatar Kyle says:

          Yeah, but that’s pretty directly unconstitutional. Corporations are to some degree “people,” groups of people are just that. Even if a ban on contributions from organizations were allowable, that would increase the influence of formal/informal bundlers.Report

    • Avatar Jivatman says:

      I agree with repealing the 17th amendment. Or, if not that, just eliminate the senate entirely and become a unicameral legislature. It was not intended to be a more powerful, centralized version of the house of Reps. It was supposed to be a true upper house.

      I think term limits are one of the more effective reforms that we could do though, one that is likely to have a lot of popular support.Report

      • Avatar Kyle says:

        In general I’m highly skeptical of term limits because the result is more often than not more powerful lobbyists and parties rather than magically more responsive government.

        Also, we have term limits, we call them elections.Report

        • Avatar Scott says:

          Here here. Imposing term limits is a cop out as it relieves citizens of taking responsibility for who gets elected. We already have the power to limit terms, it is called a vote. If more people actively participated we would have better government.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          I’m with Kyle on this. Term limits have the effect of making our legislators perpetually green. And newbie legislators are much more prone to listening to seasoned lobbyists with years of experience and big impressive research papers. Look at California. There’ve been some excellent arguments made that term limits converted their legislature from a thoughtful branch of their state government into a partisan slugfest.Report

  4. Kyle:

    Lots of interesting thoughts here, and I think your preamble hits it right on the head.

    1. Doesn’t address the central problems, but a long-overdue reform nonetheless. The way you propose it is exactly how it should be done as well.
    2. I have to think about this one a bit. It’s an interesting idea that on the surface makes a lot of sense. That said, it probably runs into some free speech issues under Buckley and may be unremarkable in practice due to the nature of corporations. Specifically, many/most corporations will have some sort of presence in many/most Congressional districts.

    3. As noted above, this would effectively end the filibuster outright. For the most part, I remain a fan of the filibuster.

    4. This really is the most appalling practice that the Senate has and definitely needs to go.

    5. Most definitely on the House side. It may well be that this will result in more gerry-mandered districts (though I’m not at all sure about that), but the effect of increasing the size of Congress would be to substantially mitigate the problems of gerrymandering by ensuring that the House is more reflective of the population they represent. On the Senate side, I like your point about creating elections every two years in every state, but I’m not at all certain that this would wind up being a meaningful reform.

    6. CRS is a very useful operation, but I wonder if increasing its role would undermine its objectivity, leading to it being less objective and more non-partisan (by which I mean that it will wind up just presenting the arguments on both sides without doing much fact-checking of its own).

    7. Most definitely. I’d also add that this is something that nationalizing the election of Speaker of the House would help on tremendously.

    8. Hells, yeah! This is one of my favorite electoral reforms and something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:


      #2 is definitely quasi-constitutional but I think it’s one of the more interesting proposition. You’re right about the corporation thing – though I imagine that’s really industry based. Retail and finance wouldn’t be impacted and manufacturing tends to be pretty local already. What it would do – I hope – is deal a critical blow to PACs and a less serious blow to the power of inside the beltway gatekeepers.

      Politicians’ PACs, I think, are an often overlooked avenue for both fundraising and peddling influence.

      #3 could be tinkered around a bit by say requiring a 2/5 or 1/3 vote to extend debate rather than 1/2. I really wonder how creating another parliamentary option that would require action on behalf of the minority party rather than just threats would affect the Senate. It’s a lot harder to break a filibuster than to sustain one but with this rule, Senators would actually have to vote. Which means they’d have to be present and they’d be on record. I don’t mind the minority having an effective legislative veto but I do mind them not having to work for it.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    A slate of ingenious reforms. As with all slates of ingenious reforms, alas, it is dependent on the actual dunces in power facing the actual institutional absurdities that they face for its enactment. I won’t say it’s hopeless, but I’m not holding my breath.Report

  6. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    OK, having thought about it a little more:

    1. Definitely a good idea, and Mark’s right–this is probably the best way to do it.
    2. Seems wrong to me. After all, people in the entire country are affected by the laws passed by Congress–I can’t vote against Tom Coburn, but I can at least donate to his opponent. Not to mention the problem that this will enhance the power of nationwide corporations at the expense of everyday citizens and nonprofits.
    3. Hell yes. Having a 60-vote supermajority requirement in an already-unrepresentative chamber is beyond obscene.
    4. Doubleplus hell yes.
    5. Seems like a good idea, and it would make it cheaper to run for Congress, which is a major plus.
    6. Also seems like a good idea. I would add that more of their materials should be made public–no reason not to give the rest of us the same knowledge.
    7. Beats me.
    8. I don’t even think this would be possible in a first-past-the-post electoral system. You could get some of the same results with fewer problems and complications by adopting instant runoff voting, I believe.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      I’ve been thinking about a reply to your concern for #2 for sometime and I think the best I can do is to say that the problem with representative democracy isn’t that there are representatives you don’t like but constituencies represented you don’t like and no amount of donating to opponents is going to address that issue.

      There are some problems that are a facet of partisanship and politics as gameplay. Then there are problems that are the natural results of deliberative democracy is a nation this large and heterogeneous. I think Virginians should decide issues for Virginia and who they want to represent them in the national legislature. If I want them on board with something I care about as a Californian shouldn’t I have to convince the Virginian people and their representatives why they should support it?Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        I’m not trying to be snarky, but one way of convincing them would be to spend money on a political candidate in the area making that case.Report

        • Avatar Kyle says:

          I KNOW, right. That would’ve been really good/effective snark.

          I could, however, spend money on mailers, bankroll an e-mail/internet campaign, travel around the state sponsoring town halls and meetups. I could donate funds to air issue ads over broadcast media that don’t endorse candidates or ballot propositions. Essentially, I could hustle to change minds by doing almost anything and everything up to donating money for broadcast endorsements or hosting an out-of-state fundraiser for such a goal.

          I just feel that if I contribute to an opponent of someone I dislike – say Jim DeMint – then I’m endorsing a system that allows politicians to ignore their own constituents in favor of well-funded external interests. (not that I’m well-funded)

          A system that says it’s ok for Lockheed Martin and Pfizer to donate to my representatives to support policies that don’t represent me. Most importantly, as I live in a western state, that the citizens of Utah, Illinois, Arizona, and Alabama could contribute money to pass a law via ballot initiative that restricts my civil rights or is fiscally unsound.

          That said, thanks for the comments and the IRV suggestion, I’ll probably think about that one some more.Report

  7. Avatar Trumwill says:

    I don’t even think this would be possible in a first-past-the-post electoral system.

    It’s possible. Cities all across the country do it. However, in my home city it doesn’t work the way that Kyle wants it to. What happens is that the moderate candidate gets squeezed out first because the liberal and conservative candidate have deeper bases of support. Being “everybody’s second favorite” doesn’t actually get you in second place. Louisiana doesn’t have primary systems and their primary-less system is what produced the infamous Duke/Edwards race. The moderate candidate (the incumbent, even) was eliminated in the first round.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      I was referring to the non-partisan nature of it, but I could totally be wrong about this. Regardless, I think the larger point stands–instant-runoff voting would be a better way to accomplish this.Report

      • Avatar Kyle says:

        I actually would agree that IRV would be better, provided we scrapped the primary system altogether. Or used a non partisan primary to narrow a particularly large field of candidates down to a smaller number and then used IRV in a general.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill says:

          With IRV, it’s quite possible that you could have more parties emerge, so it’s theoretically possible could get your desire of having say four or five parties that are each less powerful than the current two in weeding out candidates and providing a select number of candidates for an IRV election. Or very little would change. It would depend in part on what you did with the presidency. If the presidency is dominated by two parties, it’s unlikely we’ll get more than two serious parties.

          I took a Constitutional Design theory class. My professor would say that all reform is hopeless absent a more pariamentary system.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill says:

        The Louisiana elections are partisan, but the mayoral elections I’m thinking of are not. However, even in non-partisan elections, if the race has enough attention thrown to it, people know who the Republicans and Democrats in the race are. They’re just not running as Republicans and Democrats.

        That being said, two of the reasons they align themselves are (a) to try to get party support, (b) to get the support of party figures, and (c) to run for higher office. Strip congressional races of their partisan tagging and you can at least address the third and you may weaken the parties themselves enough that (a) becomes less of an issue and there are fewer (b) folks around. Maybe.

        I agree about IRV.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      This is a really good point. Nonpartisan elections do have their drawbacks. Gaming the system has payoffs. If you run two consensus conservative candidates in a liberal area running five or six liberal candidates, the vote concentration could result in the two conservatives emerging as the top two.

      Though I want to point out that I favor non-partisan elections because I think the partisan primary system is anti-competitive not because I think a system that favors moderates is better on that basis.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    As someone who believes that gridlock is the most important thing for the Federal Government to engage in, I don’t know how much a fan of reform I would be.

    That said, I am definitely in favor of 2, 4, and 5.Report

  9. Avatar Katherine says:

    I tend to see posts like this as speculative, because they’re such large changes from the current system that they’re immensely unlikely to happen. 4 seems achievable and like a good idea.

    The other thing that needs to be done is end gerrymandering. In Canada the electoral district boundaries are set by an Electoral Boundaries Commission for each province. They’re independent and non-partisan; their decisions are reviewed by public consultation and by MPs, then the commission makes its own final decision and submits the description of districts and their populations to the House of Commons.

    Each commission is three people: the head, a judge appointed the the province’s chief justice (or, if for some reason this doesn’t happen, any resident of the province can be appointed as the head by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada), and two other people appointed by the speaker of the House of Commons.

    The US couldn’t adopt precisely this system because Speaker of the House of Commons in Canada is a specifically non-partisan post (our current Speaker is a Liberal, our current government is Conservative) and the US Speaker of the House of Representatives isn’t. And our Supreme Court is a lot less politicized and less paid attention to than yours. But surely there’s some non-partisan official you could call on for appointments to the commission.

    The system generally works well for us, and citizens’ input is valuable to it, so people generally end up with boundaries that work for them.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      Well, structurally, it’d have to work differently because congressional districts are determined by state governments, not the federal government. So, for example, Iowa and Arizona have a non-partisan method for districting but the remaining 48 don’t. California just adopted a method for state legislative districts but not congressional districts.

      Yeah this was speculative, I was curious to see what some thoughts were on the approach, the individual items, and the analysis of the problem. Thanks for reading and commenting Katherine.Report

  10. Avatar mvymvy says:

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,659 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, New York — 79%, and Washington — 77%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.comReport

  11. I like many of your ideas, Kyle. But I want to make one larger point. Just as you noted in reply to term limits being called elections, I think the same can be applied to some of your suggestions. (The following critique does not apply to #s 1, 3, 4 or 6.) What I am getting at is that we, the people are ultimately in charge of who represents us. We may not like our choices in any particular election, but that is not the fault of the parties or the PACs or entrenched interests or anything/anyone else. The fault lies entirely with us.

    Just as term limits are a shortcut to injecting new blood into our legislative bodies, reforming some of our political institutions, however well intentioned, is of that same kind.Report