i.) Reform Budget Voting
Problem: The voting process used for the yearly budget promotes overspending and a lack of restraint. Because votes are held on independent line items, members of Congress are shy about voting against measures that have a particular constituency, and sound good, because there is no overall penalty for individual members for approving too many programs. Members are afraid of being taken to task by political opponents, and arousing opposition by entrenched political interest groups. No one can tally up a member’s votes and claim they spent too much for the given revenue. Moreover, taxing and spending are decoupled, promoting further irresponsibility. Ultimately, under the current process, most members never get the opportunity to vote for a balanced budget.
Solution: Article 1, section 7 of the Constitution specifies that voting for legislative bills be determined by the yea and nay votes. “But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively.” Because this method is specified in the Constitution, it can only be changed by a constitutional amendment, not regular legislation or rules changes.
However, a change in the House rules may allow individual congressmen to have input to a final budget, which is voted on in a constitutionally prescribed manner, while capturing the individual priorities of each congressman. (Article 1, Section 7 states, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”) The rules change would allow an alternative voting process to arrive at a final budget and revenue bill, which would then be subject to a yea/nay vote on the floor as a complete package. If that did not pass, the Congress could then proceed to pass whatever irresponsible budget it could muster. (However, each member would be on record as having voted for/against the first budget, and for/against the subsequent budget, if any).
The rules change in the House would require that each House member start with the budget and revenue law from the preceding year. Each House member would make the desired changes to the laws, and present it to the House as their preference for a tax and spending system. They would be required to assign priorities to their spending choices. An automated system would automatically balance the spending priorities. All items would start out with equal priority. If the congressman raised priorities on one item, the priorities would be proportionately decreased on all other items.
A mathematical algorithm would be used to combine the 435 different budgets and balance the priorities of each, in order to arrive at a final budget compromise. By a new rule adopted at the start of each session of the House of Representatives, the budget would be subject to a yea or nay vote without possibility of amendment.
Using this system, each individual member would be accountable to the overall result in congress for budget and spending issues. If they lacked the time and staffing to do a complete review of budget line items and the tax code, they could vote for the status quo, or a 3% across the board cut or increase, for example. Each member could have a chance to have input on every aspect of the taxing and spending programs. Moreover, each member would have the opportunity to vote for a balanced budget, and show how they would balance the budget. They would be given a chance to vote on a budget that holds the members responsible for their overall contribution to the tax and spending problems. And they could criticize their opponents if they failed to be responsible.
The IParty could experiment to find an appropriate algorithm that produces a budget likely to be passed by “yea or Nay” vote. If an appropriate system is found, a constitutional amendment could be offered to institutionalize the voting method. The process for amending the tax code and predicting the revenue based on the current code or the changed code will be a more difficult problem. Obviously, some congress members will attempt to make drastic changes, for various political reasons, that will be hard to reconcile with the current code. For example, the proposal of a 15% flat tax would be difficult to add to or subtract from the current code. But it may not be impossible with computer modeling.
ii.) Majority Rules
Problem: Legislative leaders and committee members use rules and procedures to stymie the will of the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
a.) The IParty will propose the adoption of rules and procedures in the House and Senate that allow simple majorities to pass legislation in ways that cannot be blocked by party leaders or committee chairpersons. If there are already unused rules to do this (even members of congress don’t know all the rules), the IParty will advocate using them regularly to overcome gridlock and reduce the outsized influence and disproportionate power committee chairpersons have in Congress.
b.) The IParty will propose a procedure in the Constitution to allow a simple majority to pass bills without permission from any party leader. Example: Any simple majority of representatives or senators may sign a document and present it to a congressional official who will confirm the votes, and then pass it to the other body (house or senate) for consideration. This would prevent procedures, rules, and politicking from thwarting the will of the majority. It will also tend to erode the partisan struggles, by allowing bipartisan majorities to impose their will.
iii.) Term Limits
Problem: House and Senate Members stay in office for decades, hindering new ideas, and becoming disproportionately powerful.
Solution: Service in the House and Senate should be limited, e.g. to twelve or eighteen years. It could be twelve years in any one body and eighteen or twenty four years total. This is long enough to ensure institutional memory and provide for experience to be retained, but puts a restraint on incumbency. Another alternative is to put term limits on either the house or senate.
iv.) Campaign Contributions/”Access” Purchases
Problem: Influence on pending legislation is affected by campaign contributions and lobbying efforts. Money has been held to be equal to free speech in the Supreme Court. Political Action Committees have been given greater freedom than individuals.
Solutions: There may be legal avenues to address this. Possible solutions are:
a.) Corporations, political action committees, and non-profit organizations should not have the same (or greater) constitutional rights than individuals when it comes to free speech. This may help limit the ability of corporations to donate to political campaigns and gain access to candidates to push for favorable legislation.
b.) A tax and voucher plan, such as the one proposed by the Mayday PAC (https://mayday.us/the-plan/), should be passed into federal law. In this type of plan, all people are taxed to fund political campaigns. Instead of having the government pick which candidates to give funds, taxpayers are given a voucher for a set amount of money, which they can donate to any political candidates they want. This eliminates the temptation of people to opt out of campaign financing, and just keep their money in their own bank account.
The IParty should study ways of limiting corrupting money in politics. The problem is that access to broadly followed communication channels (e.g. television commercials) typically costs money. It is difficult to separate non-corrupt access to such channels from corrupt access. Can we limit a rich person’s access to buy time on a TV channel to make political speeches? What if they aren’t really political, but focused on poverty and helping the poor? Is that political? Where exactly do we draw the line? What about helping needy students? Helping a religious school? Helping an engineering school with a conservative reputation? Stating that the government should help fund schools for needy children? Stating that any politician who is against funding schools for needy children is just plain wrong? Producing a news show for profit that makes political commentary? Producing a news show for profit (but which operates at a loss, unfortunately) which is mostly political commentary on current news events? Producing a news show on the internet that has no foreseeable income that does all political commentary about particular candidates? Where does honest journalism end and purely paid political speech begin? When is a news show about the coal industry legitimate journalism, when would it be considered a paid shill for the industry, and when is it something in-between?
Because of these problems, the solution may not be to try to completely ban corrupting money from politics using laws. The solution may be to out-compete corruption with superior:
* positive mental attitude
* fundraising, and
Corruption has an inherent deficit in all of these areas, even including fundraising. True charitable and other honest organized giving vastly exceeds corrupt giving. However, corrupt giving gets a disproportionate amount of attention and probably rightly so. Nevertheless, even with all the attention, it remains a difficult problem. The most reasonable solution may be to ban it where appropriate (e.g., in blatant cases), expose it where practical, but otherwise plan to outcompete it.
v.) Better Representation through Systematic Constituent Input
Problem: Representative Democracy is stuck in the 18th century. The Internet has changed the world, but the political structure of the United States remains rooted in the thinking of 1788 and 1865. Not only were opportunities to elevate constituent participation missed in the 20th century, there is no excuse for not reforming the system for the possibilities of the 21st century.
Solution: One thing can be done without permission from anyone. It only needs the willing participation of the IParty candidates. The IParty should have representatives willing to formally take polls and votes from constituents, and to vote according to those polls. The polling should be scheduled, announced in advance, accompanied by a recommendation, and verified. The Internet makes this possible today. There is nothing preventing a member of Congress from doing this today. At some point, this could be written into law, but for the time being, it could be promised as a technique for determining votes in Congress by the Candidate, and experiments could be performed to determine the best techniques of assessing the broadest voter sentiment.
This technique can be started within the IParty even before a candidate wins an election. It would be similar to the use of focus groups and informal polling, except that it would be done on a more inclusive basis and in a more public fashion. Results may be published.
Obviously, some constituents won’t know or care about the issues (e.g., patent law), and only the most informed (e.g., patent attorneys, inventors, plaintiffs and defendants in patent suits, and others involved with patents) will participate in polling. This may allow for techniques involving voter coalitions organized using computer algorithms. For example, Jim might be a voter largely concerned about net neutrality, the right to encryption, and internet freedom, but who doesn’t really know or care about protecting salmon fisheries. Janet, from Alaska, cares deeply about the salmon fisheries in Alaska, but also across the country. She has never turned her mind to net neutrality or encryption. She would be happy to form a coalition with Jim and Jim with her, because Jim will agree to vote her way on salmon fisheries, and she will agree to vote his way on net neutrality. The IParty could form voting blocs to facilitate such coalitions.
There may even be a formal recognition that the representative official may override the results of a poll under certain circumstances, such as lack of significant participation, or evidence of poll tampering by the undue influence of special interests. For example, if a vote on a particular regulation seems to have been skewed by the paid efforts of an industry affected by the regulation, the representative may gather evidence of this and override the vote.
Similarly, if more than one polling technique is used, and one technique seems more reliable than another, and the techniques produce different results, then the representative may choose one method over another.
The IParty should use new techniques available on the internet (e.g. social networking, web polling, etc) to formulate policy, with input and feedback from the broadest possible number of constituents. When the republic was formed, there were no cars, telephones, internet, telegraph, railroads, satellites, facebooks, googles, or any of that. There was pen, paper, horseback and sailing ships. Representative Democracy was born out of sheer necessity. The fullness of the representation was a product of necessity, but it is no longer required. Constituents can learn about issues very quickly using Google and Wikipedia. They can communicate their desires to their representative in Washington instantly using e-mail, facebook, Internet polls, and other techniques. While there were town libraries and telephones in the 20th century, these things were not useful for informing the populace and determining their preferences. (How would the representative get even twenty thousand calls over an issue? At the library, what happens when one constituent checks out the only copy of “Trademark Law for Dummies” to learn about a particular issue raised in upcoming legislation. What do all the other constituents do, before the age of the Internet? Wikipedia, however, can serve a basic primer on Trademark law to all who ask, instantly.
The IParty should use new techniques available on the Internet to recruit new members, new candidates, and party leaders. There is LinkedIn and numerous other tools.
The IParty should recruit professionals such as engineers, scientists, doctors, and teachers to serve as candidates and party officials. Engineers in particular have skill in designing better systems. They should be employed in designing a better political system.
vi.) Limit Congressional Immunity to Laws
Problem: Congress and Federal Government employees routinely exempt themselves from many laws that place the liberty and property of non-government citizens at risk.
Solution: Require in the Constitution that any exemption for the congress or executive branch for laws passed by congress be ratified by a popular vote of the people at the next congressional election. With this arrangement, the government would be required to explain why they need exemptions from the law, and get approval from the people using this explanation.
vii.) Reconstitute House and Senate
Problem: Congress is designed to have representatives from states, but not representatives for issues. People in the 20th century U.S. are less tied to their state than they were in the 18th century, and federal law controls much more of the legal framework in the U.S. Yet there is no way for people to vote for federal representatives devoted to a particular issue, such as campaign finance reform. Instead, they can only choose federal representatives based on the geographical region in which they live.
Solution: Reconstitute the House and Senate to allow at-large (US wide) representatives to be introduced into one or both chambers. The US representatives would campaign nationally on the basis of one or more issues for the entire country. This could be accomplished in a wide variety of ways. For example, all of the current representatives of the house and senate could be merged into one body, and a second body could be created to represent national interests. This second body could be a hedge against the temptation to funnel federal income to unneeded local projects as a way of boosting the local economy, commonly known as pork barrel spending.