Congress is broken; everybody knows this. The very fact that public opinion polls consistently put the approval rating of Congress at below 15% should cause Senators and Representatives, both Republican and Democrat alike, to blush with shame. Their failure is not so much because of their character defects, but because of structural problems that can be fixed with the right constitutional amendment.
However, there is a catch in crafting such an amendment. How do we convince members of Congress to vote for something that might put them out of a job, or take away from them their favorite obstruction tactic? Even if we could somehow convince Congress to approve the following amendment, how can we get 38 state legislatures to ratify it? It is possible to find an answer to that daunting problem. The method I propose is simple, traditional, and practical, as explained in Article 5. Please hear me out beneath the fold.
Here it is, The Governance Reform Amendment:
Article 1.Article 1 abolishes the partisan gerrymander, an obvious political evil for which there is no rational argument.
Every ten years, after the census, each state shall be divided into compact Congressional districts by a non-partisan commission, aided by appropriate software. State legislative districts shall also be similarly drawn.
All current legislative districts shall be redrawn as soon as practical, without waiting for the next census.
Article 2.Abolishing the electoral college is a no-brainer. In the 2012 election, unless you were one of the 28% that resided in a swing state, neither candidate gave a fig how you voted. 72% of the population was effectively disenfranchised by the Electoral College.
Presidential elections shall be decided by popular vote, as Congress shall direct. The Electoral College system is hereby abolished.
This obsolete method is a ticking time bomb; it has no redeeming features, other than giving Nate Silver's blog a catchy name. The only point to be settled is whether to have a run-off election in the event that no ticket gets a majority. Among the possible catastrophic consequences, consider the mischief that might ensue if the electoral college result were within one or two electoral votes. Suppose a third party got 3 electoral votes (carrying only Wyoming, for example) while the two major parties split the remaining electoral votes pretty evenly, say 267 to 268. What might ensue is the outright sale of the presidency, or even worse. A frenzy of dirty politics might follow. Perhaps blackmail, intimidation, or even outright murder, might decide who takes the oath of office. Or, perhaps a single Supreme Court vote might decide the issue. Oh, wait ...
Article 3.Article 3 is designed to compel Congress to make decisions instead of posturing endlessly. Today, each house appears unwilling to adopt rules that would enable them to do the work that the Constitution requires them to do. Therefore, we should write some basic commonsense rules for them, much as we give children rules to live by. People smarter than I could surely come up with improvements in the above list. The principle in street language is: Shit or get off the pot.
Except as provided elsewhere in this Constitution, all votes in either chamber of Congress for whatever purpose shall require a simple majority for approval.
Public voice debate on any issue shall be curtailed when a majority of members present cast an electronic vote to do so.
For a legislative proposal to become a Bill, 25% of the votes of the house in which it is introduced must sponsor the proposal.
All Bills must be voted upon by the originating chamber within 60 calendar days. All Bills passed by one house and sent to the other must be voted upon within 30 calendar days.
The President shall have the power to sign any Bill into law, while at the same time vetoing any amendments to that Bill.
All Presidential appointments or treaties must be voted on within 14 calendar days, starting with the next day the Senate is in session.
Article 4.Article 4. is designed to eliminate lobbying as we know it. Note also that it effectively reverses the Citizens United decision. Every intelligent observer regards lobbying as an evil, or at best as an unfortunate necessity. I disagree. If a congressperson cannot do his or her job without seeking the guidance of a corporation that has a stake in the outcome, then we should elect somebody who is capable. Allowing corporations (or their pawns such as ALEC) to write our laws is an abomination, and we should not tolerate it. Corporations can still publish their views, say on the company website, but they may not make their arguments behind closed doors waving wads of campaign cash.
No person may meet with any member of congress privately with the intention of influencing the introduction or consideration of any legislative proposal or Bill. The practice commonly known as lobbying is defined by this amendment as an attempt to corrupt government. Political spending by business entities, or by organizations controlled by them is similarly defined as an attempt to corrupt the government.
No organization enjoys the first amendment right to free speech; only individual human beings enjoy that right. While Congress may not regulate the free speech of individuals, it may regulate the way money is spent to promote one's political beliefs.
This Article does not prohibit advocacy provided it is done openly, publicly, and without spending advertising dollars.
The function of business is to produce goods and services. They should be prohibited from meddling with the machinery of government. Let us face it, business will undoubtedly find ways to exercise indirect influence on the government, but we should ensure that the people's influence is even greater. If you need confirmation of this principle, then read the Preamble.
Now we come to the crucial question: how do we get all these reforms passed?
Article 5.Quite frankly, Article 5 is designed to "bribe" our legislators to do the right thing. These numbers would provide a very substantial financial incentive for passing the amendment, both for Congress and for state legislators. (The highest paid state legislators earn less than $100,000 annually.) It seems likely that this would ensure passage of the amendment.
Upon ratification of this amendment, all current members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives shall receive a tax free bonus of $500,000. In addition, all state legislators in the states that ratify this amendment shall receive a tax free bonus of $150,000, to be paid by the US Treasury. These bonuses are offered as a reward for selflessly acting on behalf of the people.
No further amendment to this Constitution shall be adopted that grants any extraordinary financial consideration to members of Congress or to members of state legislatures, unless it be approved by the people in a special election.
To become effective, this amendment must be approved by a majority vote in a general election to be scheduled by Congress.
Why shouldn't we do this? The plutocrats have been bribing Congress (sometimes legally, sometimes not so much) for many decades, and with great success. Politics is not noted for the exercise of lofty legal and ethical standards. Sometimes it gets, well, a little dirty. We must work within that reality.
Is Article 5 legitimate? Of course it is! If an amendment is approved by Congress, 38 state legislatures, and the people themselves, who is to say that it is illegitimate? Its purpose is to reward our employees for a job well done. How can that be criticized? It is the equivalent of giving a CEO a bonus for maximizing profits. True, its purpose is to appeal to the personal financial interests of legislators, but corporate bonuses are also designed to appeal to the personal financial interests of corporate officers. If the amendment succeeds, if We the People regain control of government, how could this be held to be illegitimate? Is it wrong to pay our public employees something extra for superior performance?
We have a historic example in the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln took a stand that was arguably unconstitutional. Slavery had long been a legal institution, and was even sanctioned implicitly by the Constitution. But with a stroke, Lincoln reversed that simply by proclaiming, on his authority as president, that the slaves be freed. Yes, it was a bold and radical step. Later, we made it permanent and constitutional by the 13th amendment. Has Lincoln ever been criticized during modern times for his somewhat questionable (constitutionally speaking) decision? He did the right thing for the nation; this is all that matters today. (The Nike slogan comes to mind.)
We can do the equivalent, and proclaim that the people, and not the plutocrats, are in charge. We can break the grip that Big Business currently has on this nation. It is the right thing to do. Just do it!
What could go wrong? I seriously doubt that the courts would assert jurisdiction as this could bring about a constitutional crisis. After all, the people are the authors of the Constitution according to the Preamble. I really don't see anything the plutocrats could do that wouldn't make things worse for them. Tell me if you think I am wrong.
I think the most serious threat is that Congress would muck it up by trying to preserve some of the rules that are responsible for the current sorry state of that institution. They might, for example, try to keep the filibuster intact. They might try to weaken the idea that every Bill must have its day. They might even try to keep the cozy relationship they have with K street.
They must try to get their minds around the fact that these are the things that have have brought them nearly universal public contempt. Winning the approval of the voters is not by any means a sure thing, and the best way for Congress to assure passage of the amendment is to accept responsibility for its own shortcomings. In short, Congress needs a dose of humility. They must come to terms with the fact that a substantial portion of the voting public might balk at awarding them half a million bucks each just for doing their job. Alienating the voter by tinkering with the amendment could easily spell its doom, as I believe it would be a close election as the amendment is outlined above.
The above should obviously be viewed as a general outline. I am not a lawyer, much less a constitutional lawyer, and we would need to recruit some serious bipartisan talent to turn the above outline into tight constitutional language. Also, there may be other governance reforms that should be added to the amendment. (Do you have a favorite?) Once having done that, we would need to convince Congress to adopt it as is.
Buying the nation back would be cheap. The one time cost to the nation would be about $1.38B. (There are roughly 7400 state legislators; do the math.) This is a pittance—about $4.50 per capita—when compared to our annual budget, and especially when you consider the benefits. $4.50 wouldn't buy you a decent breakfast at a family restaurant. $1.38B is less than a third of the cost of a modern aircraft carrier. Even if we doubled the
bribe incentive, the benefit to the nation would greatly exceed the cost. Setting the actual price would be a delicate balance between being high enough to ensure passage through Congress and the state legislatures, and low enough to ensure victory in the special election. (Maybe we need to add a marketing specialist to the team.)
Article 5 might strike you as cynical and demeaning, but if it frees the nation from the iron grip of the plutocracy, is it not worth the theoretical misgivings we might temporarily entertain? How else are the People to regain control of our country? By saying "pretty please?" to the plutocrats? By appealing to their patriotism? By pointing out that it's for the greater good? Good luck with those methods.
We can prevail in the general election by emphasizing that the struggle is between big business and the people. We shouldn't use the words "Democrat" or "Progressive" or "Republican" or "Conservative". Frame it as a case for popular democracy. It's a case for reform of a broken Congress. It's a struggle against corruption. It's not about partisan politics, it's about good governance.
I think the events of the past several decades make it clear that nothing short of revolution can stop the plutocrats. "Occupy" movements raise public awareness, but as long as the plutocrats control Congress (and also pepper spray), they control the country. We can regain control only by breaking their grip on Congress. This, then, is my proposal for a non-violent revolution.
The late George Carlin colorfully expressed the opinion that we have already lost the struggle. (Warning:This video is definitely NSFW)
Can we prove George Carlin wrong? I hope so.