Scrap It and Start Over: Part 2 – Congress

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This is part 2 of a 4-part series exploring what is wrong with the United States’ government. Part 1

When it comes to scrapping it and starting over, Congress will be the hardest for most people to wrap their heads’ around. A legislature is probably the most basic part of a modern government. As many a dictator has realized, having a legislature is a big part of what gives the government legitimacy. Without a legislature, you have tyranny. With a legislature, the people have a voice, at least sort of.

At the same time, Congress, as it stands now, is, at best, wildly, extravagantly ineffective. I’m not going to spend as much time going over the ways in which Congress is broken as I did in Part 1 with the Supreme Court. I think we all know. The House has been gerrymandered to the point where there’s nothing close to accurate representation. The Senate is a minority rules organization. The rich and powerful have way too much influence. Lobbyists write the legislation. It’s archaic and downright silly most of the time.

My gut tells me that we should scrap it, but not necessarily start over. Representative democracy has always struck me as kind of a stopgap because countries are too big and communications too slow. Technology has shrunk the world considerably. Instead of having a legislative branch of government, we can have direct democracy; everyone votes on laws. It would solve the gerrymandering problem and the lobbyist problem and the money problem at the very least.

I understand, though, that most people won’t be ready for direct democracy. What could a new legislature look like? The first think we’d have to decide is on the size and makeup. Right now, we have two houses of Congress. Is two good? Or do we want only one? How about three or four? For simplicity’s sake, I’d lean one. However, if we keep our federal structure, two might work better.

No matter how many houses we have, the districting system has to go. Each state should vote on its delegation as a whole. There might have to be a proportionality rule to keep megacities like New York and LA from dominating the rest of their states. If one state is 60% one party and 40% another, then their delegation has to be 60% one party and 40% the other. If another state is 55% one party, 35% a second, and 10% a third, the delegation has to match that. No more gerrymandering, but it would keep the huge population centers from controlling everything.

If there is a second house, that one should be picked by lots. Every adult has an equal chance of sitting in this chamber. It could act as a counterweight to the other chamber. We wouldn’t have to worry about money and influence since there would be no campaigns and bribes would still be illegal. Terms would be relatively short so as not to disrupt anyone’s life too much.

Whatever the number of houses and how the legislators are picked, we definitely need a plain language requirement for all laws. Without the legalese, judicial review would be far less vital. We require it in insurance advertising and other areas. This is more important.

Strangely for a person of my political persuasions, I think there is room for the filibuster or a filibuster-like mechanism in the new body. I believe in the importance of giving the minority a check on the majority’s power. The problem with the filibuster now is that it is too easy and, therefore, used far too frequently. It shouldn’t be used for any piece of legislation a party doesn’t like. It should only be used for emergencies. Maybe putting a limit on the number of times per term it can be used would work. Or maybe another branch of government or the people themselves would need to sign off on it.

There are, naturally, other issues to work out. But I think this is a good start. Think of it as food for thought. We don’t need to keep the status quo. But if we’re going to change it, we need to start thinking about what the new order will look like. How would you redesign Congress?

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