Britain’s last parliamentary election encompassed six weeks of campaigning and cost a pittance compared to the billions to be spent on America’s current presidential election. The recent French presidential election took somewhat longer than Britain’s and again cost a pittance compared to ours.
Negative campaign ads fill the airwaves. If you view these ads too long, your hair starts to catch fire. And it’s only going to get worse as we get closer to election day.
Many complain about the dysfunctional nature of both the Congress and the presidency as they relate to each other. The president cannot get his program passed through a balky Congress. Congress can’t make any headway on its proposals. Major issues go unresolved (deficit reduction, Medicare, Medicaid, immigration, etc.). Some issues are not even addressed.
What can be done to improve the functionality of the presidency?
Recently, as noted in a New York Times article, a national bipartisan group entitled No Labels has devised a 12-point plan on how to strengthen the Presidency. Among the most significant proposals are the following:
1) The president would be able to send legislation to Congress twice a year that could not be amended but would require one up-or-down vote (no filibuster). If President Obama had had this power last fall, he could have submitted his “Grand Bargain,” dealing with the reform of Social Security, Medicare, the tax code, and deficit reduction, to a prompt vote. This provision is similar to the “fast track” provision now in place for international trade agreements.
2) For incoming presidents, all Senate-approved appointments would have to be made by the Senate within 90 days of submittal. That would allow the president to get his team in place quickly. Now it takes roughly 10 months to get everybody confirmed.
3) The president would be required to give a press conference every 30 days, and he (or she) would have to submit monthly to a 90-minute question-and-answer session on the floor of Congress. This latter feature is now done in Britain. It’s called “Prime Minister’s Question Time” and it works well.
4) The president would be required to meet quarterly with both parties’ congressional leadership.
5) The power that expired in 1984 to consolidate or eliminate parts of the federal government would be restored.
6) Finally, the president would be given expanded authority to send individual items in spending bills back to Congress for an up-or-down vote. This is similar to the line-item-veto the Supreme Court said the president couldn’t have. Most state governors have line-item veto power.
The philosophy behind these proposals comes, to a certain extent, from the parliamentary form of government. In that form of government, a party is elected to power by virtue of a majority in the parliament. Parliamentary members become the executive.
Therefore, since the party in power has a majority of the legislature, it can readily pass its program into law. If the program doesn’t work, or isn’t popular, the majority party can be voted out at the next election.
But unlike our present system, where the president presents his program and it may be made into mincemeat by the Congress, at least the party in power, having been elected, has the power to enact legislation and see if it works.
Right now some would say these proposals favor the Democrats. But, remember, a Republican will someday be president. There are other proposals by No Labels, but these will suffice for now. To those who say, “This will never be accomplished,” I remind them of what Robert R. Kennedy said, “Some men see things that are and say why. But I dream things that never were and say, why not?”
This program is no panacea, but it may just be a good start.