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Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 01:48 PM
Some of the talks on the debt ceiling have sparked my interest in a topic that I have always enjoyed: revising the U.S. Constitution. I actually am 80-90% sure that not only has this topic been done before but I think I've even participated in earlier threads on this same matter. Nonetheless, I think the time is ripe for this topic.

I should also say that I think our current system of government is very good, has worked pretty well for over 200 years, and 9 times out of 10 it works fine. So while I do think my proposed changes to the Constitution are improvements, it's along the lines of "making things better" not "fixing an irreparably broken system." I don't feel that is the state of our country right now, current crisis notwithstanding.

Anyway, here are my proposed changes, broken down by branch of government:

Legislative


Bills passed by the House and approved by the President can become law without approval of the Senate, but not until 12 months after they are signed. Laws dealing with revenue or the management of the treasury/debt only have to wait 30 days to take effect.
Bills passed by the House by a 3/5ths majority or greater and approved by the President can take effect immediately, without Senate approval.
The number of Representatives in the House shall no longer be fixed, but shall strictly be based on population. The smallest state by population shall receive 1 representative, every other state shall receive a number equal to how many times their population can be evenly divided by the population of the smallest state. As a quick note this would give us about 100 more Representatives and California would have around 65, Texas around 45 etc.
The District of Columbia will receive voting representation in the House, following the same rules as to their number of Representatives as if it was a State.
Presidential veto override rules are changed. A veto can be overridden by a 3/5ths supermajority in both houses, or a 2/3rds majority in any single House.
House of Rep. members shall be elected to serve 4 year terms.


Judicial

SCOTUS Justices will now be appointed for 20 year terms, non-renewable. Death or retirement of the Justice means a new Justice must be appointed to a new 20 year term, there are no 'vacant' terms that have to be 'filled' by temporary appointments, anyone appointed is appointed for the full time.
The SCOTUS will have 13 members.


Executive

The President will serve a single six year term, non-renewable.
The President will have the power of line item veto, essentially identical to the power as it existed in the 1990s briefly. These vetos can be overridden just like others under the new rules.
The President shall have the power to dissolve the House of Representatives. Upon dissolution the sitting House can continue its business but elections must happen within 40 days and new members are sworn in 7 days after the election.


Justifications:

My changes to the legislature are pretty obvious in their intent. I'm essentially advocating for a much stronger legislative branch. When the Constitution was written Congress was divided in two and subject to a powerful Presidential veto because on paper the Congress was vastly the most powerful entity. The true role of the President was essentially left for Washington and his successors to define. What has happened over the following 200+ years is I feel the President has become ever more powerful while the Congress has become ever more prone to extreme grid lock. Since about 2003 essentially any business that goes through the Senate has to go through with a 3/5ths majority because basically all contentious legislation is filibustered. Party infighting is extreme, and paralyzes the House leadership on a regular basis.

My proposals wouldn't fix all of those issues. But they would result in a House of Representatives that would have broad power to "fast track" issues, being able to directly by pass the Senate with a 3/5ths vote. Further, the "auto-bypass" of 12 months / 30 days for certain legislation essentially makes the Senate entirely an optional part of the legislative process. However the Senate would still be able to propose new legislation, and would still be the sole entity that could approve Presidential appointments, ratify treaties and etc--so it would still be a very important part of government, not as irrelevant as the House of Lords.

The power of the President to veto has obviously been greatly reduced. This is because I essentially do not feel the one man in the White House should equal 2/3rds of both Houses of Congress. If 3/5ths of all of our representation in both Houses of Congress think something should be a law, I think the democratic process is best served by making it so. The 2/3rds of one House veto override is also justified along the same lines.

The four year house term should serve to allow congressmen to focus a little more on the business of legislating and not the business of campaigning.

I've increased the number of SCOTUS justices and limited their term. The increased number is because I think it helps to have a set number and I also think it is good for it to be higher than 9, just because it limits the impact of a single President on the composition of the court in its entirety. The limited term is also a two fold matter. One, it means that if a President believes they have found someone who is a great candidate for the court, but might be 60-65 years old, they would still be willing to nominate that person. Under the new era Presidents have been very hesitant to nominate justices much into their 50s, because Presidents desire their appointments to last generations on the bench so they are looking for the youngest persons who are qualified. The term limit also serves as a limit on the ability of justices to essentially cling to the bench forever. I do not feel the nation's interests are served when octogenarian justices hold onto the court because they fear their elderly lives will be without meaning once they leave the bench, I'm sorry but the SCOTUS isn't supposed to be there to give really old people a reason to keep on living.

With the Presidency I am limiting the term there to 6 years non-renewable. President Obama is my biggest inspiration for this. Presidents have always been very different near the end of their first terms than they are during the rest of their Presidency (if they get reelected), as they start to worry about reelection they become, in my opinion, less willing to strongly advocate issues they believe in and instead become more concerned with causing the least amount of offense and creating the fewest enemies possible.

I feel that in the best case scenario the Presidential election cycle still is about 2 years, so even a two term President you only get 6 "real" years out of them, because the second 2 years of their first term is semi-campaigning. With Obama I feel that he started behaving like a President up for reelection sometime around February of 2009. With a six year term I think you get someone in office for long enough to have an impact and they will pretty much hit the ground running on day one, and will not be worried about losing election 4 years later.

The new power of the President to dissolve the House of Reps is probably the most dramatic change to the nature of the Federal government, but I think it is an important power. The President and the Congress are supposed to and should butt heads from time to time, but they also should not enter periods in which they become permanently incapable of working together, or periods where they absolutely refuse to compromise on issues of pressing national interest. This mechanism would essentially allow a "nuclear option" for clearing up log jams. For example the current debt ceiling crisis simply would not have happened if this option was on the table, because President Obama would have dissolved the House back during the budget crisis and the debt ceiling crisis just simply would not have happened. This tool also isn't even necessarily a guaranteed favorable thing for the President. If you look at other countries in which leaders have strategically dissolved the government sometimes the ones who wanted the dissolution actually turn out much worse after the fact. So Mr. Obama could have dissolved the House during the budget debate, and maybe a much heavier GOP house was elected, or maybe one with the same composition. That would essentially force the President to compromise as he would have tested the political waters and found the public to not be behind him. Now, nothing would force him to compromise, but I think in practice that would typically be what happens.

John Mace
07-31-2011, 01:52 PM
What does the Senate do in your proposal? Just ratify treaties and confirm presidential appointments?

Fear Itself
07-31-2011, 01:58 PM
Yeah, the small states are not going to like that.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 02:10 PM
What does the Senate do in your proposal? Just ratify treaties and confirm presidential appointments?

They do everything they do now, still.

They do not lose anything they have now, they can still vote down House bills and work to try and get a version together that both Houses support. The only difference is, once a bill has passed the House the House only has to play that game if it is important it take effect immediately, otherwise they can just let it wait 12 months (or 30 days in certain types of legislation.)

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 02:11 PM
Yeah, the small states are not going to like that.

Right. Let me note I didn't design this with an eye towards seeing these proposals ratified in the form of Constitutional Amendments. It is just an intellectual exercise, our Constitution for all its positives and negatives is not really amenable to large numbers of sweeping changes like this of any type. Each issue I've outlined would probably piss off enough States that none of them would ever be ratified.

John Mace
07-31-2011, 02:28 PM
They do everything they do now, still.

They do not lose anything they have now, they can still vote down House bills and work to try and get a version together that both Houses support. The only difference is, once a bill has passed the House the House only has to play that game if it is important it take effect immediately, otherwise they can just let it wait 12 months (or 30 days in certain types of legislation.)

The "only" difference is that the Senate is completely irrelevant. Is that what you want?

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 02:51 PM
The "only" difference is that the Senate is completely irrelevant. Is that what you want?

Did you read my post? As I said, the Congress was divided in two initially because of the fear of the power of a runaway legislature controlled by a dangerous "faction" (to use the terminology from the Federalist Papers.) I do want to make the Senate "unnecessary", which isn't the same as irrelevant.

That wasn't a bad idea, but I think we're not at a point where a bicameral system in which both houses have to agree to the exact same bill for anything to ever get completed, causes the legislative branch to be weaker than it should be and less responsive than it should be.

I do not agree that the Senate would be irrelevant under my new systems. Firstly, the approval of Presidential nominees is an important role. The ratification of treaties is an important role.

Further, the ability to essentially delay legislation for 12 months serves an important purpose, and I feel that power is more or less in line with what the Senate is: a more arcane, philosophical "debating society" in which things can be discussed endlessly. I think there will be some value in their ability to delay legislation, during that time they can suggest alternative forms for the bill, and if the House agreed with them for the sake of securing speedy passage, then the Senate would be still participating in the legislative process.

Basically my desire for the Senate is for them to serve a role in certain matters of state (approval of various nominations or treaties), and "optional participant" and "advisory" role in legislation. They can still participate fully in the creation of new legislation, and I'm sure Senators, being elected to the office, will desire to do such things. There will still be party loyalty, and legislation that is began in the Senate by leaders of one party would still be supported by many members of that same party in the House. I just do not think the Senate should be a mandatory participant in legislation. I think a House of Representatives, with 515+ members representing districts all over the entire country, is a great divergent body of legislators and a whole other House being mandatory on top of that is not necessary, in my opinion.

Fear Itself
07-31-2011, 03:13 PM
With the Presidency I am limiting the term there to 6 years non-renewable. President Obama is my biggest inspiration for this. Presidents have always been very different near the end of their first terms than they are during the rest of their Presidency (if they get reelected), as they start to worry about reelection they become, in my opinion, less willing to strongly advocate issues they believe in and instead become more concerned with causing the least amount of offense and creating the fewest enemies possible.

I feel that in the best case scenario the Presidential election cycle still is about 2 years, so even a two term President you only get 6 "real" years out of them, because the second 2 years of their first term is semi-campaigning. With Obama I feel that he started behaving like a President up for reelection sometime around February of 2009. With a six year term I think you get someone in office for long enough to have an impact and they will pretty much hit the ground running on day one, and will not be worried about losing election 4 years later.I would support this, but change it from "non-renewable" to "non-consecutive" One six year term, then six years later, he/she could be elected again. I think the voters should get the candidate they like, and a six year break would decrease any dynastic power held by an incumbent. Plus, by the time they served two terms and were elegible to be elected again, 24 years would have passed, and they are probably to damn old to be elected to a third term anyway.

John Mace
07-31-2011, 03:23 PM
Did you read my post?
Yes. I had a question, and so I asked it.

As I said, the Congress was divided in two initially because of the fear of the power of a runaway legislature controlled by a dangerous "faction" (to use the terminology from the Federalist Papers.) I do want to make the Senate "unnecessary", which isn't the same as irrelevant.
OK. But there isn't a whole lot of daylight between those two terms.

That wasn't a bad idea, but I think we're not at a point where a bicameral system in which both houses have to agree to the exact same bill for anything to ever get completed, causes the legislative branch to be weaker than it should be and less responsive than it should be.

I do not agree that the Senate would be irrelevant under my new systems. Firstly, the approval of Presidential nominees is an important role. The ratification of treaties is an important role.

Further, the ability to essentially delay legislation for 12 months serves an important purpose, and I feel that power is more or less in line with what the Senate is: a more arcane, philosophical "debating society" in which things can be discussed endlessly. I think there will be some value in their ability to delay legislation, during that time they can suggest alternative forms for the bill, and if the House agreed with them for the sake of securing speedy passage, then the Senate would be still participating in the legislative process.

Basically my desire for the Senate is for them to serve a role in certain matters of state (approval of various nominations or treaties), and "optional participant" and "advisory" role in legislation. They can still participate fully in the creation of new legislation, and I'm sure Senators, being elected to the office, will desire to do such things. There will still be party loyalty, and legislation that is began in the Senate by leaders of one party would still be supported by many members of that same party in the House. I just do not think the Senate should be a mandatory participant in legislation. I think a House of Representatives, with 515+ members representing districts all over the entire country, is a great divergent body of legislators and a whole other House being mandatory on top of that is not necessary, in my opinion.
That helps explain your motivation much better. Thanks.

I have to wonder who would be motivated to run for Senator in that system, and if it would make a stint in the Senate a stepping stone to getting into the House (opposite of what is the usual path today). Not making a value judgement, just an observation.

Fear Itself
07-31-2011, 03:27 PM
Right. Let me note I didn't design this with an eye towards seeing these proposals ratified in the form of Constitutional Amendments. It is just an intellectual exercise, our Constitution for all its positives and negatives is not really amenable to large numbers of sweeping changes like this of any type. Each issue I've outlined would probably piss off enough States that none of them would ever be ratified.I wasn't necessarily thinking of ratification, so much as decreased power in making laws. Small states have proportional representation in the House, but equal representation in the Senate. Legislation would begin to favor populous states over small states, and problems would emerge.

Chronos
07-31-2011, 04:19 PM
States aren't citizens. People are. If small states have less power, well, that's as it should be: Power comes from the people, so logically fewer people should mean less power.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 04:31 PM
States aren't citizens. People are. If small states have less power, well, that's as it should be: Power comes from the people, so logically fewer people should mean less power.

Generally I think State & Local government is best suited to handle most issues that arise locally, even if they require some Federal funding to implement the solutions, I still strongly believe in the importance of State & Local government.

However, more and more I am not of the opinion that such a system requires the over-representation in the Federal legislature of small states versus large states to achieve these ends.

Lots of Federal payments to States are part of more or less national grant programs that every State can pull from based on a combination of their population and their need for the money, same for Federal funding for small community / municipal projects.

Now, big Federal projects like FBI Data Centers, Federal Prisons, those sort of things do basically get assigned to whatever district has a representative in one of the two houses of Congress who does the right amount of horse trading to get it into their district.

However, individual Congressmen will still have power and still have the ability to play tit-for-tat, and if a casualty of all this is less Robert Byrd and Ted Stevens style largess, I consider that a feature and not a bug.

Captain Amazing
07-31-2011, 04:32 PM
Power comes from the states. We're the United States of America, not the United People of America. But what I'm wondering is, the justification for these changes are that it'll make the legislature more powerful, but you're giving the President the power to dismiss the House of Representatives at will. Doesn't that make the legislature less powerful, if the President can just dismiss them at will?

Here's a hypothetical scenario under your system.

Aide: "Mr. President, Congress is about to pass Bill X."
President: "But I hate Bill X! I know. The House is now disbanded!"
Congress: "Oh, shucks."

<47 days later>

New Congress: "We're back! Guess we need to start the whole legislative process on Bill X all over again."

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 04:51 PM
We don't need to restate things like "power comes from the States", power really comes from the people in any case. I don't deny the importance of the States historically, but as part of what makes up the country I think they are much less important these days with far fewer people even particularly placing great importance on their state of residence as part of their self-identity. In any case, the constitution can change all that, that's why these are proposed changes to the constitution.

As to your hypothetical, why doesn't that happen constantly in France which has a President who possesses this power? The French have a 1 year provision which says that once the President dissolves the Nat'l Assembly he can't dissolve the new assembly until a year has passed.

However realistically there are two important things to note:

1) In my proposal the outgoing House maintains operations while the elections are going on. If they were getting ready to pass legislation that would have been able to overcome a Presidential veto and the President dissolved the House, they would definitely make sure to pass it before the end of their term. If they weren't passing it with enough votes to override veto, then the President could just veto anyway so why bother holding new congressional elections? Which will always be a calculated political risk.

2) People would not like constant elections purely because the President didn't like what the House was doing. And continuing to have them would completely destroy the President's political credibility, to the point that he could end up being impeached.

Zakalwe
07-31-2011, 05:04 PM
Wouldn't a lot of the logjam be cleared by eliminating the filibuster rule? Maybe an amendment that says that other than vetos, no legislative body can have a rule requiring more than a simple majority.

John Mace
07-31-2011, 05:09 PM
Wouldn't a lot of the logjam be cleared by eliminating the filibuster rule? Maybe an amendment that says that other than vetos, no legislative body can have a rule requiring more than a simple majority.

I had that in my last post, but deleted it before submitting. Mainly I was thinking it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prevent the chambers from creating some rule to get around it. But I think that would be a less radical way to move things in the direction the OP desires, even if it doesn't get it all the way to the same place.

Critical1
07-31-2011, 05:16 PM
3/5th = 60%
2/3rds = 66%

you might wanna change your numbers a bit.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 07:16 PM
3/5th = 60%
2/3rds = 66%

you might wanna change your numbers a bit.

Which numbers where and why do you think that? I don't believe you read my post in its entirety and/or I do not think you understood my intention if you believe I would want to change my numbers.

2nd Law
07-31-2011, 07:25 PM
Executive

The President will serve a single six year term, non-renewable.
The President will have the power of line item veto, essentially identical to the power as it existed in the 1990s briefly. These vetos can be overridden just like others under the new rules.
The President shall have the power to dissolve the House of Representatives. Upon dissolution the sitting House can continue its business but elections must happen within 40 days and new members are sworn in 7 days after the election.



What is going to stop a President from vetoing line items where funds will be spent in districts held by members of the opposing party? It seems to me this would allow a President to ban pork barrel projects -- in the other party's districts -- and leave it in his party's districts.

Also, if the President can dissolve the house, what is going to keep him from doing so as soon as the house is sworn in, if the majority of the house is from the opposing party? "Oh, we lost? Let's have a do-over! Lost again? Another do-over!"

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 07:27 PM
Wouldn't a lot of the logjam be cleared by eliminating the filibuster rule? Maybe an amendment that says that other than vetos, no legislative body can have a rule requiring more than a simple majority.

Yes. I actually originally had thought about a system where the Vice President, as President of the Senate, should have the ability to essentially "invoke cloture" if necessary. It would:

1) Give the Vice President something to do
2) Make the U.S. Senate move a little more reasonably..and realistically if the VP had this power it would quickly fall into disuse..because the assumption that it would be used would dissuade most filibustering. I'd potentially allow for the Senate to overrule a VP cloture in some manner. But logically I can't think of many scenarios where that would happen (if a majority of the Senate wanted the filibuster to continue, then logically the filibuster probably would never have happened.)

However, the reason I stepped back from that was that I think the whole concept of every law having to pass through both Houses and both Houses have to agree on a finalized form is just too much bureaucracy and can lead to one House or another basically holding the rest of the government hostage.

So I started to really think a pseudo-unicameral system in which "legislation" was mostly done by the lower house and certain State tasks and "advisory activity" would happen in the upper house. My unrealistic dream would be that the Senate would be comprised of old statesmen, former governors, former House members who have cooler heads and sort of want to take on a more laid back role in which they can still get a message out there and advocate for people but wouldn't have to be involved in the daily bustle of the House. In reality I don't know that that would ever happen, but that's sort of the romanticized ideal of what I think the Senate should be under my system.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 07:33 PM
What is going to stop a President from vetoing line items where funds will be spent in districts held by members of the opposing party? It seems to me this would allow a President to ban pork barrel projects -- in the other party's districts -- and leave it in his party's districts.

Nothing initially, but you would only get away with that once and then it would become much more difficult for the President to ever count on the legislator he screwed to support any of his legislation ever again.

Also, if the President can dissolve the house, what is going to keep him from doing so as soon as the house is sworn in, if the majority of the house is from the opposing party? "Oh, we lost? Let's have a do-over! Lost again? Another do-over!"

Nothing. Other than public opinion and common sense. I thought people might have issues along this line, but if you look around the world this authority isn't unheard of...while the UK's Parliament and the Canadian Parliament are technically dissolved by the Head of State in reality of course the PMs technically are the ones who do it. What stopped David Cameron from asking the Queen to dissolve Parliament because he wasn't happy that the Tories only attained a minority government? Why didn't he just have a do over in the hope that they won an outright majority?

Most likely because he might lose ground not gain it, and the very act itself so quickly and for such a purpose would be politically unpopular. The public wouldn't stand for a President dissolving the House every few weeks.

There was a time when the British monarch was an active constitutional monarch (essentially from the time of the restoration up through George III or so), and while sometimes they ruled for long periods of time without a Parliament because they continually had elections go against them (Charles II finished out his reign that way), by and large they were often cowed by the pressure of the Parliament because they needed a working legislature to govern the country. Same thing for a President, they can't operate the country for very long if they are constantly dismissing the House. It just would not be nearly the concern you're thinking about.

It's sort of like saying, "What's stopping the President from granting amnesty to every person in Federal prison?" Nothing. The SCOTUS has explicitly stated the pardon power is more or less absolute in terms of Federal crimes, it can be a general, sweeping amnesty (and has been used that way.) What stops the President from doing that is mostly the fact that is the most difficult job in the world to obtain and only a crazy person would behave that way, so the election process is a very strong safeguard against that. Secondly the political response would be immense.

2nd Law
07-31-2011, 07:45 PM
Nothing initially, but you would only get away with that once and then it would become much more difficult for the President to ever count on the legislator he screwed to support any of his legislation ever again.


If the legislator in question is one of the President's opponents, considering the way things are working these days, the chance of the legislator ever supporting the President's proposed legislation are vanishingly small anyway. Cutting money going to a congressman's district would take away the congressman's "look at all the money I brought here!" claim in the next election cycle.

As for the dissolution of congress, I agree that people may well get ticked off about repeated dissolutions, but these days I'm thinking "most outrageous scenario." I don't think exercising a power specifically given to the President could be the basis for his impeachment.

ņaņi
07-31-2011, 08:46 PM
How would impeachment work in this system? Could a President dissolve a House that was beginning or into impeachment proceedings?

Bryan Ekers
07-31-2011, 09:11 PM
The number of Representatives in the House shall no longer be fixed, but shall strictly be based on population. The smallest state by population shall receive 1 representative, every other state shall receive a number equal to how many times their population can be evenly divided by the population of the smallest state. As a quick note this would give us about 100 more Representatives and California would have around 65, Texas around 45 etc.

This could be kind of amusing - a 5% change in the population of Wyoming having a ripple effect across the entire Union. And if there's a natural disaster or a economic exodus that reduces the population of Wyoming, congress would shrink accordingly.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 09:48 PM
This could be kind of amusing - a 5% change in the population of Wyoming having a ripple effect across the entire Union. And if there's a natural disaster or a economic exodus that reduces the population of Wyoming, congress would shrink accordingly.

Sure, but I think it is still an inherently fairer system than one which fixes the number at 435 (which is just a matter of statute currently, you do not even need to alter the constitution to change the number of representatives), because this system disproportionately deprives larger states of their fair share of House Reps.

The smallest State essentially has to have one Rep, so logically the easiest way without getting into convoluted formulas and etc is to try and make it so every Rep comes close to representing a district roughly the same size in population as the smallest state. Obviously because of how basic division works, you still won't have equal sized districts, but they would be much closer than they are today.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 09:53 PM
If the legislator in question is one of the President's opponents, considering the way things are working these days, the chance of the legislator ever supporting the President's proposed legislation are vanishingly small anyway. Cutting money going to a congressman's district would take away the congressman's "look at all the money I brought here!" claim in the next election cycle.

Maybe. I don't really have a problem with that though. The less meaningless pork in legislation the better.

I should reiterate pretty much nothing I have proposed here is new, essentially every single change is present either in some other country that functions perfectly fine or it is present in one of our States.

Many State governors have line item veto, and they still seem to have a functioning government.

As for the dissolution of congress, I agree that people may well get ticked off about repeated dissolutions, but these days I'm thinking "most outrageous scenario." I don't think exercising a power specifically given to the President could be the basis for his impeachment.

Again, we could talk about all kinds of ridiculous "outrageous scenarios", like what would happen if the President pardoned everyone in Federal prison--because the pardon power is sort of like my dissolution power in that it is essentially absolute. Realistically I'm not worried about the things you are worried about, I've looked at other Presidential countries that have such a system and I've not seen anything alarming, if anything I've seen governments that run a bit more efficiently than ours.

The great fear in 1789 was the danger of factions undermining the republic and essentially creating a "tyranny of the majority" which essentially ran rough shod over the interests of everyone else. I don't think that concern needs to be addressed in the same way it did in 1789.

If a President was being impeached and dissolved Congress, we're still talking about a month or so for Congress to finish impeachment. Remember, the House just needs a majority vote to impeach the President. Imagine if Nixon had this power and dissolve the House, the House had already approved impeachment in committee. If Nixon had utilized this power, that House would still have at least a month to operate, and I can 100% guarantee they would fast track impeachment and Nixon would have been impeached. Once the President is impeached he is tried before the Senate, which under my proposed system cannot be dissolved, so the President would be unable to save his own neck realistically.

Little Nemo
07-31-2011, 11:08 PM
What stopped David Cameron from asking the Queen to dissolve Parliament because he wasn't happy that the Tories only attained a minority government? Why didn't he just have a do over in the hope that they won an outright majority?

Most likely because he might lose ground not gain it, and the very act itself so quickly and for such a purpose would be politically unpopular. The public wouldn't stand for a President dissolving the House every few weeks.The big difference is that David Cameron is part of the Parliament he is dissolving. If he misreads the mood of the electorate, the other party gets a majority and Cameron is no longer Prime Minister. That puts a pretty solid limit on how many times in a row a Prime Minister can dissolve Parliament.

But under your system, a President could keep dissolving Congress as often as he wants without it having any effect on his office.

Martin Hyde
07-31-2011, 11:11 PM
The big difference is that David Cameron is part of the Parliament he is dissolving. If he misreads the mood of the electorate, the other party gets a majority and Cameron is no longer Prime Minister. That puts a pretty solid limit on how many times in a row a Prime Minister can dissolve Parliament.

But under your system, a President could keep dissolving Congress as often as he wants without it having any effect on his office.

Right...just like a President could pardon every person convicted of any Federal crimes without it having any effect on his office.

Qin Shi Huangdi
07-31-2011, 11:39 PM
I like most of the Constitution just the way it is except for a few reforms:

-Allow line item vetoes for the President
-Salaries not to be given to Congressmen who have other income above a certain level
-The rights to life to be granted from the point of conception

Little Nemo
07-31-2011, 11:43 PM
Right...just like a President could pardon every person convicted of any Federal crimes without it having any effect on his office.True. But pardoning felons doesn't have a direct effect on the functioning of the government itself.

Qin Shi Huangdi
07-31-2011, 11:48 PM
Its interesting some of the ideas in the OP was included in the Confederate Constitution.

Blake
08-01-2011, 02:25 AM
As to your hypothetical, why doesn't that happen constantly in France which has a President who possesses this power?

For several reasons. The most obvious being:

1) While the French PM has the power to dissolve the Lower House, the Lower House also has the power to dissolve Cabinet. IOW a President that dissolves the Lower House is taking a mighty big gamble. In the event that he uses this power and his party loses the subsequent election, he is then saddled with a Cabinet that is both politically opposed to him and livid for him calling the election to begin with. This is precisely what happened when Chirac used the power ~10 years ago, and we all know how well that turned out for him. So your insinuation that the French President could dissolve the Lower house without it having any effect on his office is incorrect. It has a massive effect on his office when the Cabinet is intensely hostile to him.

2) The French President has very little legislative power. He can veto bills, but IIRC if the same bill is presented to him again within 12 months he is obliged to sign off on it. IOW there is no chance of the sort of nonsense we saw with Obamacare or the most recent budget bungle. So long as the two houses agree the President is ultimately forced to sign off, hence no true veto power exists.

You have added neither of these balances to your proposed veto powers. Under your system the President really could dissolve the Lower House with absolutely no effect on his office, and with potentially huge advantages to his ability to advance his own agenda. This is very unlike the situation in France.

Of course today he could pardon all Federal felons with absolutely no effect on his office. But Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffet are highly unlikely to use their influence to encourage him to do that, don't you think? And very few Federal felons are likely to be personal friends of the President, or long-term supporters, wouldn't you agree? And very few Federal felons are likely to ever have the power to knobble Presidential plans, correct? So there is really very little for the President to gain personally from pardoning or not pardoning felons.

In contrast there are rather obvious reasons why the President would choose to exercise or not exercise his power of dissolving the lower house.

As such the analogy with pardoning felons really doesn't seem to address the issues raise din any way at all.

Martin Hyde
08-01-2011, 05:08 PM
For several reasons. The most obvious being:

1) While the French PM has the power to dissolve the Lower House, the Lower House also has the power to dissolve Cabinet. IOW a President that dissolves the Lower House is taking a mighty big gamble. In the event that he uses this power and his party loses the subsequent election, he is then saddled with a Cabinet that is both politically opposed to him and livid for him calling the election to begin with. This is precisely what happened when Chirac used the power ~10 years ago, and we all know how well that turned out for him. So your insinuation that the French President could dissolve the Lower house without it having any effect on his office is incorrect. It has a massive effect on his office when the Cabinet is intensely hostile to him.

For some reason people are really hung up on this concept that the President's power to dissolve the legislature would essentially have no limit in scope and could never turn out badly for the President.

I have thought of this, and like I said, the reality is that it doesn't need specific limitations because it's ludicrous to assume a President would just sit there and use it over and over again until he got the House he wanted. You would most definitely see a President who would essentially lose the ability to govern.

If you look back to the relationship between Kings George II and George III and their Parliaments you will see a similar situation, because the monarch had no limit on his ability to call for elections for a new Parliament. By and large Parliament still almost always won over the monarch, because the power to dissolve the legislature did not tend, in itself, to change public opinion in the monarch's favor, and many times repeated attempts to change the composition of Parliament just lead to the King finally having to accept Prime Ministers they loathed.

The President absolutely needs a functioning Congress to pass budgets and do other things that are essential to his ability to run the country, if he kept the legislature essentially permanently in a state of limbo his own power to do anything would be very limited.

Further, the President already has several powers which in the "obnoxious case scenario" he could use extremely disruptively. I brought up the pardon power precisely because it is a power that the SCOTUS has ruled is essentially unlimited in scope and unchecked by any constitutional mechanism. I have not seen the pardon power as something that gets crazy, although there are always unfortunate end of Presidency pardons that do seem to happen.

The current veto power of the President requires 2/3rds majorities from both houses to overcome, and I would argue that it could be just as disruptive as continually dissolving the House if it were used constantly. What would happen to a President that constantly vetoed every single piece of legislation? Well, Andrew Johnson only vetoed a few things that the Radical Republicans wanted and he ended up impeached and while he survived the trial in the Senate he did end up politically marginalized. A President that was actually vetoing everything would probably have been convicted in the Senate.

I had sort of considered various alternative mechanisms like allowing the House to prevent its dissolution by passing some blocking legislation with some level of supermajority, but I just don't think it is necessary. I don't think people should dismiss the idea of how powerful the notion of "that just isn't appropriate" is. Under the constitution of Canada, the Governor General could, as I understand it: Withhold assent for any legislation he wanted, with little ability of Parliament to override this, or dissolve or prorogue Parliament on a whim, with little ability of Parliament to stop it. The reason that does not happen is essentially tradition, and the fact that the people put into the position of G-G just aren't the sort who would do such a thing. If they did, you would see a dramatic change to Canada's constitution very quickly.

In any case, the reason to grant the power to dissolve the House is for him to use it in extreme scenarios. Is it possible that a President would use it in other scenarios, to his political benefit? Yes. However, such an act would not be without risks, and the fact that he could call new elections again and again to try and get bigger majorities in the House is dramatically undermined by the fact that such action would irreparably harm the Presidency. To me, the possibility is remote enough that the system does not need to be hard coded against it.

Instead, it should be dealt with the same way something as unlikely as a rogue monarch in the UK or Governor General in Canada would be handled: by immediate and dramatic constitutional changes, those positions have vast powers that are never exercised because the public would not stand for it. The Presidency has real power that the public expects will be wielded by the President, but it also has powers it expects the President to use sparingly and with discretion. This power would fall into that category and I do think that the system would self correct if a President went off the deep end with it, either through constitutional changes or impeachment. However, I don't think it is good policy to limit the options on the table by creating various hard coded limitations on the power itself.

LouisB
08-01-2011, 06:47 PM
I like most of the Constitution just the way it is except for a few reforms:

-Allow line item vetoes for the President
-Salaries not to be given to Congressmen who have other income above a certain level
-The rights to life to be granted from the point of conceptionI would prefer the right to serve in either the congress or senate would be limited to Native Born Citizens of the USA who have attained the minimum age of thirty-five at the the time of their elections. Proof of such birth would be required by the sworn eye witness testimony of six previously proven citizens.

Zakalwe
08-01-2011, 09:17 PM
I would prefer the right to serve in either the congress or senate would be limited to Native Born Citizens of the USA who have attained the minimum age of thirty-five at the the time of their elections. Proof of such birth would be required by the sworn eye witness testimony of six previously proven citizens.Please, please, PLEASE tell me this is a joke. I appreciate a good whoosh as much as the next guy, I'm just hoping this is one...

LouisB
08-01-2011, 09:55 PM
Please, please, PLEASE tell me this is a joke. I appreciate a good whoosh as much as the next guy, I'm just hoping this is one...Some of it is; some of it is not. The primary objective is maturity.