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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.

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 1 abolishes the partisan gerrymander, an obvious political evil for which there is no rational argument.
Article 2.

Presidential elections shall be decided by popular vote, as Congress shall direct. The Electoral College system is hereby abolished.

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.

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.

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 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.
Article 4.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tim - I am sympathetic with many of your points (12+ / 0-)

    Here in CA the voters put in place an actual non-partisan commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts. Most people thought they did a very good job.

    However, on some of your suggestions the times are much too short, particularly with Senate approval. Each of the candidates does now and should go through a confirmation process and a hearing. Even on a fast track basis that takes  45-60 days for the committee to develop a list of questions and for the nominee to answer in writing and then the scheduling of the actual hearing. Most appointees go through a week or two of intensive prep for the hearing.

    I favor a schedule for mandatory up or down votes on nominees based on how much time it does take to vet the nominee and have a hearing. That would likely be shorter times for sub-cabinet officers to a long period for a new SCOTUS justice.  

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Fri May 31, 2013 at 08:13:57 AM PDT

  •  Umm... Let's leave the Constitution alone. (5+ / 0-)

    Let's not open that can of worms.  I'm not willing to trade some small gains on our side for, say, a fetal personhood amendment.

    I would actively work against any attempt by any individual or group to alter the Constitution at this time. I don't want ANYBODY mucking around in there, regardless of how good their intentions.

     Good intentions in no way guarantee good outcomes, and the potential for unexpected consequence is far too high.

  •  Goes too far regarding state legislatures (8+ / 0-)

    The clause in the first article, "State legislative districts shall also be similarly drawn" is completely unworkable.  We can't have the federal government telling the states how to construct their governments (beyond ensuring no citizens federal rights are violated).  You would have to have some kind of federal review board to enforce this provision.  Can you imagine the uproar?

    ------RM

  •  ...well California as least does have... (5+ / 0-)

    ...people that divide the state into districts after the census now that are NOT in politics (takes it out of the hands of the dominant party), so that's a start...

    Great ideas Tim. Of course that means it will die in committee in the Senate...

    Ignorance is bliss only for the ignorant. The rest of us must suffer the consequences.

    by paradise50 on Fri May 31, 2013 at 08:48:39 AM PDT

  •  Tiny question: Why in article 3 should curtailment (3+ / 0-)

    of public debate be decided only by electronic vote? Can't it just say

    when a majority of members present cast a vote to do so.
    .

    A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

    by marleycat on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:16:58 AM PDT

  •  I like most of your proposal. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tim DeLaney, pigpaste

    I have problems with Sections 4 & 5.

    I don't think any kind of controversial amendment like this could be passed today. Red states have too much to lose. Besides, no matter how much we "bribe" them, legislators are not going to relinquish power, which provides a far more lucrative, steady, and unending source of income.

    Do you think Wyoming voters (whose votes count far more than mine does in Indiana, much less someone in California or New York) are going to ratify such an amendment?

    These days, I settle for a partial death of the filibuster (on appointments).

    Great ideas, Tim. Exactly what we need to do, but I don't see it happening. Who is going to fund the campaign to get this through? Can you imagine the opposition blitz this would draw?

    I am afraid our compromising president is right. All we can do is try to set a good direction and nibble at the margins.

    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

    by Dragon5616 on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:21:30 AM PDT

    •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dragon5616, Tim DeLaney
      Besides, no matter how much we "bribe" them, legislators are not going to relinquish power, which provides a far more lucrative, steady, and unending source of income.
      Yeah, let's not get into a bidding war with the Koch brothers.
    •  We don't need the votes of Wyoming citizens, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dragon5616, lostinamerica, Nica24

      just the votes of their legislators.

      The enabling referendum would be based on the national popular vote. 560,000 Wyomingers (?) would barely matter in that equation.

      The opposition blitz would consist of plutocrats telling us that plutocracy is just fine. I am counting on 51% of us seeing through that. If I am wrong, then George Carlin was right, and we should just get used to it.

      "Nibble at the margins"? is that the best we can hope for? An occasional crumb?

      Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

      by Tim DeLaney on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:38:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I won't attempt (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Tim DeLaney

        to explain how plutocrats would tell us that plutocracy is just fine. I'd just say look around; it's happening every day.

        Yes, I think the occasional crumb is all we can get at present--for reasons that would require a diary in itself. The ultimate reason is that not enough people are uncomfortable enough to make any radical change.

        "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

        by Dragon5616 on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:52:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Amendments can be stopped by 3% of U.S. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dragon5616

      To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population.

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

      Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

      When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

      The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

      The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

      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).

      A survey of Wyoming voters showed 69% overall support for the idea that the President of the United States should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.

      Voters were asked "How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current electoral college system?"

      By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote was 66% among Republicans, 77% among Democrats, and 72% among others.
      By gender, support was 76% among women and 62% among men.
      By age, support was 70% among 18-29 year olds, 68% among 30-45 year olds, 70% among 46-65 year olds, and 70% for those older than 65.

      Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

      The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium, and large states with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

      NationalPopularVote                                                                                

      Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

  •  take points 1 & 2 and leave it there (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tim DeLaney, 3goldens, Dragon5616

    I am tremendously impressed with what happened after California eliminated gerrymandering.

    I think points one and two could get support - but throwing in everything else makes this a pipe dream.

    Take the Gerrymander out of re-districting, and more congressmen will have to actually represent a mixed district - and can't be too radical.

    •  I could live with that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dragon5616

      And that's why they were points one and two. In fact, I could be happy paying $4.50 just to abolish gerrymandering.

      Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

      by Tim DeLaney on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:42:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would limit amendment (4+ / 0-)

    to revoking corporate personhood.  The patent ridiculousness of granting artificial constructs of the state identical rights with natural born individuals is a much more powerful lever.  

    That simple step would make it possible to limit corporate contributions to politicians.  It would also make writing anti-lobbying laws with real teeth.  It would also eliminate automatic standing (the ability to bring court cases) in legal actions.  There is already a movement working towards this goal.  (Move to Amend)  

    Ending gerrymandering would also be desireable, however I think a separate amendment would be better.  Also, I don't think that would be constitutional to extend the provisions to state electoral districts.  And it would stiffen resistance to passing the amendment.

    I'm also not sure that naked appeals to economic interest are the best method to secure desirable amendments.  Instead, the best interests of the nation should be sufficient to do this.  An appeal to the ideals of commonwealth rather than a commercial transaction is the way to go.

    Reporting from Tea Bagger occupied America

    by DrJohnB on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:26:51 AM PDT

    •  I agree in principle with ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dragon5616
      I'm also not sure that naked appeals to economic interest are the best method to secure desirable amendments.  Instead, the best interests of the nation should be sufficient to do this.  An appeal to the ideals of commonwealth rather than a commercial transaction is the way to go.
      But suppose the "best interests of the nation" turn out to be insufficient? That has been our experience so far. The plutocrats will use money to advance their interests without restraint, but the people must be forbidden to reply in kind? I contend that this view is equivalent to total surrender, that George Carlin was right.

      Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

      by Tim DeLaney on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:52:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  DrJ - just for the record corporations don't have (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bill W

      "identical rights with natural born individuals". No decision of the SCOTUS has ever stated anything like that. In fact, to refer to how the language reads in Citizens Untied, the Court made a very clear distinction between groups of people such as clubs, unions, and corporations and "natural persons". What the Court has ruled, going back more than 100 years, is that corporations have some of the same rights as "natural persons", but never that they have comprehensive, identical, rights.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Fri May 31, 2013 at 01:29:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd keep 1 and 2, ditch the rest (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tim DeLaney, Dragon5616

    Easier to pass something simpler. (Yeah I know, ERA was even simpler and look what happened there.)

    Also, I don't think the bribe will work. A huge percentage of legislators are already millionaires who will be less influenced by this. And for those who might be influenced by this, the 1% can easily outbid any amount you might put in this amendment.

  •  The Carlin Clip (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dragon5616, Tim DeLaney

    It's not funny because it's true.

    Agree with many of the comments here. I understand and support the thrust of where you're going and trying to accomplish but some of the solutions are problematic by themselves or have little chance of moving forward.
    Better to concentrate on overturning Citizens United and work for public financing of all campaigns as starting points.

    Blue is blue and must be that. But yellow is none the worse for it - Edith Sidebottom

    by kenwards on Fri May 31, 2013 at 10:04:09 AM PDT

  •  Gerrymandering and the Senate filibuster (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tim DeLaney

    Strike me as our biggest problems right now.  The only reason the Republicans control the House right now - after collectively losing the House races by several million votes - is due to the wild spree of gerrymandering after the 2010 census.
    The Senate filibuster currently serves no purpose except to allow the most partisan Republicans to drive the agenda for all Americans by preventing any bill or nomination they even slightly dislike from coming to a vote.  Thanks to Harry Reid's spineless cowardice, they don't even have to do a real filibuster to accomplish it.
    The Constitution only demands a supermajority in the Senate for very limited circumstances (overriding a veto, convicting an impeached official, approving treaties).  Other than that, it should go.  We don't even need a Constitutional amendment for that, just a senate rules change, but only an amendment would come close to driving a stake through its heart because that would be the hardest thing to change in the future.
    Basically, all of the suggested articles, with a little tweaking (the reasons for which can be seen in other comments) would do a great deal to make effective Federal governance possible again.

    •  We are in basic agreement (0+ / 0-)

      But I would submit that the electoral college system has the possibility of doing the greatest harm, although the probability of that happening is low. This obsolete idea has no redeeming virtue that I can see.

      Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

      by Tim DeLaney on Fri May 31, 2013 at 10:48:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Governance Amendment (0+ / 0-)

    I agree with most of your proposals at least in principle, but Article 5 would be a non-starter--it would be regarded as outrageous and illegitimate, and would set an unacceptable precedent--members of Congress could never bribe themselves so openly.  
    So, your amendment would have zero chance of passage: paradoxically, passage would depend on most of the problems it aims to fix being already largely mitigated.  But the fact that there is no chance of success doesn't mean that its advocacy can't be a politically viable strategy: if pushing for such an amendment helps to expose the fundamental problem ailing our system--radical Republican obstructionism--then the effort might well be worthwhile.  

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