Just a side note about Trevor’s post on term limits. As was touched upon in his post, there have been many papers written about what term limits would do for Congress, and a significant number of them aren’t positive. Though it does depend on how long the term limit is – this wouldn’t really apply to a 9+ term limit for the House – if term limits were enacted, Congresspeople would have to rely more and more on lobbyists. If you were to limit your typical House member to two terms, that’s not enough time for her to establish relationships with other members of Congress or become an expert on a specific issue. She would have to increasingly rely on party organizations, lobbyists, and interests around Washington to make a decision.
That all relates to a paper called “Congress’ Wicked Problem: Seeking Knowledge Inside the Information Tsunami,” written by Loreleie Kelly. In the paper, Kelly puts forth the argument that what’s wrong with Congress isn’t corruption, but that it’s “incapacitated and obsolete.” (Thanks to Ezra Klein for linking this paper on Wonk Blog).
I especially agree that Congress is incapacitated. Congress is Congress’ own worst enemy. Gridlock is around every corner. With the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, the numerous near-government shutdowns, Congress’ inability to get even the most basic stuff done quickly (like aid for Sandy), and a lot of other shenanigans, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we need to move to a unicameral, more parliament-like national legislature.
My cursory, flawed, and brief thoughts on how this would work. First, get rid of the Senate, and at least quadruple the size of the House. Most importantly, allow the House to grow as the population of America does. Each state gets a certain number of House seats based on population with a minimum (depending on how big the House gets) for the least populous states. The district of each is divided evenly in population based on the population of the state, and the boundaries for the district would be drawn by the state’s federally mandated nonpartisan commission. Voters would choose what party/candidate they want representing their district in order of preference. If the initial votes are tallied and there’s no candidate with more than 50% of the vote, the candidate that received the least amount of votes will be knocked off. For those voters who selected the candidate that received the least amount of votes, their votes move to their second most preferred candidate. The votes are tallied again, and the process continues until one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote for the district.
Obviously this would require a new constitution. Additionally, I would be hesitant under these new conditions to expand congressional terms to match that of presidential ones. I like the idea of voters having the option in changing course if they don’t like the direction their country is going. Something like two years for Congress and four years for the president. I don’t know.
The Constitution of the United States of America is the oldest constitution still in effect today. While that is a testament to the Founders’ intelligence, ideals, and the structure they laid out, it’s still a constitution that was written in 1789. It’s out of date.