In this new election year there is lots of talk about the anger of the voters. Particularly with Trump leading the Republican polls. Is this anger useful? Will the emotions currently being expressed evolve into improvements with the way Washington conducts the country’s business?
With or without Trump as president, I think not.
I’ve always been pessimistic throughout my adult life regarding the outcome of our elections. Nothing being reported in the news about this year’s election leads me to think there are improvements on the horizon.
This is my own personal bias, and I refuse to get into a ‘party’ mode with regards to any politician running for office. I’ll party when somebody actually does something good on the country’s behalf.
Recently, it was with great interest that I caught a January 11th segment on The Kelly File where the Texas Governor Greg Abbott talked about using Article V of the Constitution to make some Constitutional reforms. This type of discussion gets my attention, and I waited for the details to be revealed. It would be easy to get behind a good government reform plan and perhaps stop being so pessimistic every election year.
At the beginning of the segment, Megyn Kelly did ask Governor Abbot about what he wanted to change about our government. It was a specific question, but unfortunately for me, I thought it was answered with generalities. Something vague was mentioned about the Supreme Court stepping over their Constitutional boundaries and changing existing law. Something else was said about the President doing the same thing with executive orders.
Behold the power of the internet. A quick search turned up nine proposals from Abbott for amending the Constitution of the United States (courtesy of: http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com). These nine proposals are copied below:
- Prohibit congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one state.
- Require Congress to balance its budget.
- Prohibit administrative agencies from creating federal law.
- Prohibit administrative agencies from pre-empting state law.
- Allow a two-thirds majority of the states to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
- Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.
- Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
- Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
- Allow a two-thirds majority of the states to override a federal law or regulation.
Put me down as mostly unimpressed with this list as I don’t believe these proposals address the main problem. Other than the requirement to have Congress balance its budget, how do the other amendment proposals fix the dysfunction in Washington? No doubt it will take Article V to get these particular proposals to the voters for approval as I’ll bet Congress won’t cooperate.
There are some other commonly discussed Constitutional amendment proposals I’ve heard about:
- Term limits for Senators & Representatives (W. Buffet suggests only when deficit > 3% GDP).
- Line item veto power for the President.
- Sun Setting Constitutional amendment for all laws with duration of 33 years.
These proposals could make the situation in Washington better. However, I remain skeptical for the same reason I’m skeptical of Abbott’s list: how do these proposed amendments address the main problem in Washington? Besides, who wants to give the President even more power with the line item veto?
Do we generally agree that Washington is dysfunctional? And that the majority of the problem lies with the Legislative branch and the making of the country’s laws? As a thought experiment, I’ve asked myself the following three questions:
1. How do good laws get made in Congress?
2. How do bad laws get repealed or modified? Is nullification by the Supreme Court the only way?
3. How does an elected lawmaker, who is not famous, make a difference for the better?
Of course I can’t answer these questions in the positive. Hence, I’m very pessimistic about the outcome of this year’s election, and of the proposed Constitutional amendments I’ve read about. I believe we need a Constitutional amendment that directly addresses congress’ inability to make good law. This is the discussion that I would like to see on TV shows like the Kelly File.
Here is my suggestion for a Constitutional amendment that I believe best solves the problem:
The UNUM Bill
In the Senate, each Senator gets one bill outside of the dysfunctional law making process. The Senator controls the language of the bill exclusively. No committees, no seniority, no changes without approval of the originating Senator. The leader of the Senate just has to ask if/when the individual Senators are ready to present their UNUM bill.
When the UNUM bill is ready for prime time, there should be a brief debate period where there is opportunity to review the complete language of the bill. This is followed by one last chance to change any part of the UNUM bill by its originator. The bill then goes to the full Senate for an up/down vote. No shows count as no votes. There is no way to prevent a full vote on the UNUM bill by anybody other than the bill’s originator.
If the UNUM bill passes the Senate, it then goes to the House for the same, unmodified, up/down vote. Again, the normal dysfunctional House rules would not apply, only the bill’s originator can stop this vote, but that person wouldn’t want to. After passing the House, then its on to the President for his or her signature into law.
The result would be a simple way for every Senator, regardless of status or seniority, to make a difference. It enables the ‘good’ elected politician to fulfill the campaign’s promise. I wonder if the founders of this country ever considered such a law making procedure for the legislative branch?
I prefer just one UNUM bill per Senator per life. That eliminates the need for term limits. However, I expect such an amendment proposal to meet strong resistance from the political class for the simple reason that it does serve as a term limit. Therefore, it would still be better to compromise by allowing each Senator to have one UNUM bill every term. With six year terms, the Senate should easily be able to accommodate and schedule 100 UNUM bills every half dozen years.
On the House side, things are a bit more complicated due to the sheer number of elected representatives combined with the short, two year duration of their term. So instead of giving each and every representative an individual UNUM bill, flip the script and give UNUM bills to the State Caucuses.
Each State Caucus can have one UNUM bill every two years if the Caucus members can get a two thirds agreement on the bills language. This should be fairly easy to accomplish for a state like Wyoming. California, on the other hand, may have problems presenting an UNUM bill with two thirds Caucus approval every two years.
The House UNUM bill voting process should be similar to the one in the Senate. The speaker can ask the State Caucuses for their UNUM bill if they have the two-thirds approval of the bills contents. This is followed with an open debate period where the bill’s critics can persuade the sponsors to make changes. After that, its time for the up or down vote.
Just like in the Senate, if it passes the House vote, it goes to the Senate for another up or down vote without any changes to the bill’s language. If that passes, then the President can sign it into law.
Having such an UNUM bill process in the Constitution will distract Congress from its presently dysfunctional duties. And that is the point! Fix the problem with the Legislative branch.
Our elected representatives need something much more productive to do with their time in office. Working on their individual legacies with the UNUM bill is the best idea I can think of. This would apply to state governments as well. Perhaps Governor Abbott can work to have UNUM bills available for the Texas legislative branch?
Apologies to whomever has already thought of this UNUM bill reform idea. I have yet to see it described elsewhere.