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Democrats are Making the Same Mistake Politicians Have Made for Decades (Washington Examiner) December 13, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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It’s such a classic mistake that it’s difficult to understand why politicians keep making it. They win an election and proceed to overplay their so-called mandate, setting themselves up for failure and positioning their opponents for a rebound. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both did it, and now Democrats are taking their turn after winning a majority in the House of Representatives (while Republicans still hold the Senate and the White House).

First came Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., borrowing a term from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and calling for a revolutionary “first hundred days” for the Congress. All he wants is “Medicare for all,” free college tuition, relief for student debt, a $15 minimum wage and, like the late-night television commercials, wait there’s more. Not to be outdone, the new socialist congresswoman, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wants no less than a “Green New Deal,” proposing a “national industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the U.S. economy.” She also wants “Medicare for all” and the $15 minimum wage and, while we’re at it, let’s abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Meanwhile in my home state of California, Democrats introduced bills on day one of the post-election legislative session seeking universal early childhood education, Medi-Cal for illegal immigrants, a free second year of community college, and all manner of other proposals to spend the state’s $15 billion surplus — and quickly, lest it go away in a new recession. The only question is whether Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will follow his predecessor Jerry Brown as the adult in the room, keeping a damper on new spending.

History has not been kind to newly elected officials pursuing dramatic policy changes. Clinton thought he had a mandate in 1993 and went after major healthcare reform, only to be sent home empty-handed. In 2004, George W. Bush famously said he had earned “political capital” in his victory and “now I intend to spend it.” His pet project was Social Security reform, including privatized accounts, and after several months of declining poll numbers and congressional resistance, he backed down.

Political scientists have pointed out the folly of these so-called mandates, starting with Robert A. Dahl’s article, “Myth of the Presidential Mandate” in 1990. The myth is that a vote for the president means the people want whatever policies the president seeks, and that Congress should play along. Alas, life in Washington does not work that way. As political scientists David Brady and Craig Volden point out in their book Revolving Gridlock (2006), the real test of a major reform is whether the median senator (#50 on the conservative-liberal scale) and the median member of Congress (#218) would support the reform. If not, “attempts at dramatic change … will fail,” they conclude.

By that test, all of this pie-in-the-sky legislation will surely fail. Only President Roosevelt has carried out dramatic policy change in the last 100 years, and that was in the wake of the Great Depression. Perhaps politicians like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez think the Great Recession will be enough to fuel a new New Deal, but that song will not play in Washington, especially in this polarized federal government. The only real case for the bold Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez proposals is to use their ideas rhetorically in an effort to reposition the Democratic Party. They might succeed in that battle, but it will likely cause the party to lose the war in the next election.

So, Democrats, knock yourselves out. Order up new legislation with those eyes too big for your stomachs. Proceed, as they say in football, to outkick your coverage. Make haste toward that bridge too far. Overreach your limited electoral mandate. Try to out-Roosevelt Franklin Roosevelt and create your own green or new New Deal.

It will prove again what politicians should have learned by now — there is no electoral mandate for major policy change.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/democrats-are-making-the-same-mistake-politicians-have-made-for-decades

 

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Bypassing the Constitution Wasn’t Enough–Popular Vote Fanatics Resort to Lawsuits to Get Their Way (Washington Examiner) November 28, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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One of America’s oldest colleges is under legal attack. No, I don’t mean Harvard University and the lawsuit over its admissions policies. The Electoral College is under attack, facing lawsuits filed in four separate federal courts this year, while also the subject of a stealth attack in state legislatures across the country. A concerted effort to change presidential voting from the constitutional elector system to a national popular vote would accomplish this through the courts and a clever end run rather than through legislatures and a proper constitutional amendment.

Although the Electoral College has faced more than 700 attempts to reform or eliminate it, passions run high now because in two recent elections (2000 and 2016) presidents were elected who had lost the national popular vote. This has happened only four times in our history, ironically twice in a twelve-year period in the late 1800s and now twice in the young 21st century. In all the other elections (save one decided in the House of Representatives), the same candidate won the popular vote and electoral vote. That’s a pretty good record (unless your name is Al Gore or Hillary Clinton).

The lawsuits seem thin, legally. Each case, brought in federal courts in two blue states (California and Massachusetts) and two red states (Texas and South Carolina), charges that the winner-take-all vote through the Electoral College denies a citizen’s right to an equal vote under the “one person, one vote” principles of the 14th Amendment. In their view, if you vote and lose, your vote did not count because it was not ultimately represented in the Electoral College. But the Constitution provides that presidential elections are a series of state elections, and that’s where the votes are counted. Your vote was counted, all right — it was just a losing vote in a state-based election.

What these suits really attack is the winner-take-all aspect of electoral voting and, under the Constitution, that is a policy for states to make. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, allocate their electoral votes by congressional district, reflecting the mix of red and blue one might find in a given state. The others allocate their votes on a winner-take-all basis, which has produced high stakes presidential campaigns in a few battleground states. But the right way to change that is to persuade more state legislatures to follow the Maine and Nebraska approach, not to ask the federal courts to take over one more state policy decision.

If the Electoral College lawsuits are a search for federal judicial mandates rather than persuasion and deliberation in state legislatures, the National Popular Vote Bill seeks a similar result through stealth and constitutional cleverness. This bill, being passed by state legislatures, seeks to obligate electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, even when it differs from the state’s own election winner. So far, the bill has passed in 12 states (including the District of Columbia) with their 172 electoral votes. When enough states have passed the law to total the needed 270 votes to elect a president, the legal obligation for those states’ electors to vote according to the national popular vote comes into effect. It is a clever attempt to get around the constitutional electoral system, pure and simple.

The Electoral College was intended to provide a role for both the states and the people to elect their president, a hybrid system reflected throughout the checks, balances, and separations of power in our federal system. Today it plays an important role in preventing a national recount and it requires candidates to campaign around the country, not just in the major population centers. In the name of greater fairness, proponents of changing to a national popular vote have pursued their own brand of unfairness. Through lawsuits, they seek federal judicial mandates rather than persuading state legislatures of the best policy. Moreover, through a clever end run, they seek to undo the Electoral College without a proper constitutional amendment.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

 

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/bypassing-the-constitution-wasnt-enough-popular-vote-fanatics-resort-to-lawsuits-to-get-their-way

 

 

States are Experimenting with Voting Systems–Some Work Better than Others (Washington Examiner) November 12, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Although the 2018 elections were held last week, the madness continues. As it was in the 2000 presidential election, Florida is once again embroiled in recounts for both its gubernatorial and Senate races, accompanied by allegations of lost and stolen ballots and lawsuits. Meanwhile Maine’s secretary of state is overseeing a complex instant runoff process to decide one of that state’s congressional seats. Other races around the country have been too close to call now for days.

What few people realize is that the election for federal offices, including not only the House and Senate but also the presidency, are actually 51 separate state (and District of Columbia) elections, all with their own rules and procedures. Under the Constitution, the “times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof” (Article I, Section 4), which means there are variations across the country.

In Florida, for example, a state law enacted after the chaos of the 2000 presidential election requires a recount when margins of victory are 0.5 percent or less. If, following a machine ballot recount, there is still a margin of 0.25 percent or less, a manual recount is ordered. Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have such automatic recount provisions, each with its own triggering margin. Most states allow a recount to be requested, though in a few a lawsuit would be required to challenge an election.

While Florida engages in its bruising recounts and lawsuits, Maine is undertaking a more clinical “instant runoff” through its “ranked choice” system of voting. Rather than voting for one candidate, Maine voters rank all the candidates. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, the last-place candidate is dropped and the results are then recalculated, which could go on for several rounds. In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, none of the four candidates received 50 percent of the vote, so the process is underway, with memory sticks and paper ballots all being rounded up. Maine’s secretary of state acknowledged that a “tortured, long journey” is now “going to get a little longer.” While Maine is the only state to use ranked voting, several cities in California and elsewhere use it in local elections.

Another state peculiarity rose up in California again this year when voters in the general election were faced with either two Democrats or two Republicans — for example, Democrat Dianne Feinstein running for re-election to the Senate against Democrat Kevin de Leon. In 2010, California voters approved a proposition establishing a top-two primary in which the two biggest vote-getters in the primary advanced to the general election, regardless of party. In a few conservative strongholds in the state, that may mean two Republicans running, although in blue California it is more often two Democrats. Experts argued that the top-two primary would lead to more moderate and centrist candidates. So far, there has been little evidence of that, but it has reduced voter choice. I call the options in the last two Senate elections there “left and lefter.”

One of the more promising electoral experiments is in Nebraska and Maine where, in the presidential race, they assign electoral votes by congressional district rather than winner-takes-all. This seems to reflect more accurately the purple color of many districts in the country, rather than exaggerate the reds and blues. A more radical approach is the National Popular Vote Bill, adopted in 11 states plus the District of Columbia representing 172 electoral votes. If that bill is passed by enough states to represent the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president, those states will be obligated to cast all their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, even if that nominee lost the state — an obvious end run around a constitutional amendment to change the electoral system.

The states are still what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy,” where experiments may be conducted with lower risk. As we are learning again in 2018, some of these voting experiments work better than others.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

 

 

 

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:  https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/states-are-experimenting-with-voting-systems-some-work-better-than-others

Trump: A Presidency Perpetually In Search of a “Better Deal” (Washington Examiner) October 25, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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President Franklin Roosevelt had his “New Deal” and Harry Truman his “Fair Deal,” both of which were anchored in philosophical ideas about American domestic and economic policy. As we near the end of two years of Trump’s presidency, it seems fair to characterize his non-philosophical approach to governing as a continuous search for a “better deal.”

What underlies President Trump’s policy toward one of America’s most dangerous enemies abroad, Iran, for example? It continues to be based on his campaign observation that the nuclear agreement struck with Iran was “a disastrous deal.” His approach does not derive from any international grand strategy or understanding of the role Iran plays in the world. It is simply a bad deal, and we need to get out of it, presumably to work toward some unspecified better deal.

An even more obvious application of Trump’s “better deal” philosophy has been his approach to tariffs. Republicans have long argued for free trade and no tariffs, so Trump was off the script when he began blowing up trade agreements—first the TPP and then NAFTA—and imposing tariffs on friends and enemies alike. But as this has played out, it turns out that he is not so much interested in tariffs as he is in using tariffs to negotiate better deals, one nation or region at a time: Mexico, Canada, the European Union and soon others. Of course, the negotiating may stop at the Chinese border, and isolating China economically may be the end game for his tariff negotiations.

To negotiate better deals, of course, one must first undo existing deals, and that is where Trump the disruptor is unlike any president we have seen. He proclaimed the Paris climate change pact “an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the benefit of other countries” and poof, we were gone in a flash. The Iran nuclear deal, involving seven countries over two years of negotiations, was declared by Trump a “horrible, one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made” as he led America out the door. In one of his first actions as president, he pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and famously declared NAFTA “the worst trade deal” ever entered into by the U.S. He told our allies “NATO is as bad as NAFTA,” leaving them to wonder whether we would even withdraw from that defense pact. Trump’s recent declaration that he wanted to pull out of the INF nuclear deal with Russia seems to be following this same disruptor path.

Does a president have the constitutional power to withdraw from international agreements? The Constitution gives the president the power to enter into treaties with the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, but it is silent on the question of where the power resides to withdraw from treaties. When Congress approves trade agreements, it has never explicitly given the president power to undo them. On one hand, Congress clearly has the power to “regulate commerce,” but Congress has been yielding its powers to the president on a whole list of things, including its war powers, for decades. It would be an interesting constitutional question, but with the presidency in the ascendancy and Congress in decline, such a difficult question might not even be raised.

Then remains the ultimate question: Can Trump not only undo bad deals but also make “better deals?” That is the question by which Trump’s foreign policy may ultimately be judged. Bilateral negotiations on tariffs may be easier to accomplish, though the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is not being hailed as an unqualified success. But any new deals involving NATO or Iran or Russia on matters of national defense and nuclear weapons are far more complex and require a patient, long-term diplomatic approach that the Trump administration has not yet demonstrated.

So far, the author of The Art of the Deal is largely in search of a series of “better deals” for America. It seems clear that Trump is willing and able to undo deals, but less clear whether he can bring about better ones.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Time’s Up: Brett Kavanaugh Chaos is Why the Supreme Court Needs Term Limits (Washington Examiner) October 3, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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The Founders of our republic would be shocked because, according to Federalist No. 78, they saw the judiciary as “beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments” of the federal government. Having the power of neither the sword nor the purse, the role of the courts was to be minimal. By now, however, the Supreme Court makes the most important social decisions, and many of the biggest economic ones, of our day. With gridlock in Congress, you can nevertheless count on the high court to decide hard questions, and most of the difficult ones make it there.

It is fair to say the Founders would also have been surprised that a lifetime appointment might some day mean 30-40 years on the court. Justice Anthony Kennedy recently retired after 30 years on the court, and Justices Clarence Thomas at 27 years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 25, and Stephen Breyer at 24 are close behind. Most acknowledge that William O. Douglas, who served the longest of any Supreme Court justice (37 years), was not entirely capable late in his term.

In the last 100 years, the average tenure of a justice was 17 years, and it will doubtless be twice that in the near future. As people live longer and retire later, it is partly the natural course of things, but as contentious and important as the selections are politically, presidents choose younger justices (Neil Gorsuch was 49, Brett Kavanaugh 53) who can serve longer and extend their political legacy. Justices generally do not retire unless their party of choice is in the White House to appoint a favorable replacement.

I am not a fan of term limits, generally. I believe they limit the right of the people to vote for whom they wish. But the people are not voting for Supreme Court justices. Further, in my view, there are not sufficient checks on the power of the Supreme Court so term limits, or even age limits, make more sense. There are several interesting proposals out there to do this. Staggered terms of 18 years, after which a judge could return to another court within the federal judiciary, is one of the better ideas. In effect, a president would be choosing a new Supreme Court justice every two years, greatly reducing the political pressure and all-out warfare we see today. Justices would not be serving 30-40 years, often well past their prime.

 

The high stakes and contentious Supreme Court appointment process we now have is clearly dysfunctional. One silver lining from the dark Kavanaugh appointment cloud should be serious attention to term limits for Supreme Court justices.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:  https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/times-up-brett-kavanaugh-chaos-is-why-the-supreme-court-needs-term-limits

Should the Voting Age be Lowered? (Junior Scholastic and Upfront) September 20, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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I participated in a point-counterpoint on whether to lower the voting age for Junior Scholastic magazine and also for Upfront, a New York Times publication for high school students.   A link to the latter is below:

https://upfront.scholastic.com/issues/2018-19/090318/should-the-voting-age-be-lowered.html#1110L

 

California is Using Lawsuits to Impose its Blue State Values on the Rest of the Country (Washington Examiner) August 7, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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It’s not fake news that California is joining 19 other states to sue the Trump administration over auto emission standards. But it’s not surprising news either, since this is now the 39th lawsuit California has brought against the federal government during Donald Trump’s 1.5-year presidency. Viewed through that larger lens, this is less about federalism, states’ rights, or even auto emissions, and more about California’s ongoing effort to impose its blue-state ideals on the rest of the country.

The Clean Air Act of 1967 was a federal initiative to take over environmental policy, reinforced by big-government Republican Richard Nixon’s establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Thereafter, the federal government, not the states, would be in charge of auto emission standards, though the federal government could still grant waivers to states under particular circumstances. California has had such a waiver for 48 years, though the EPA now wishes to remove that waiver and enforce the lower federal standards across the board. California argues it has special needs for higher standards and, as a matter of states’ rights, it should be able to enforce those.

The truth of the matter is that California only believes in state auto emissions if they are stricter than those of the federal government. If Texas, for example, wished to have lower standards than the feds, California would not be joining that lawsuit. No, for California, states’ rights only travel in one direction— toward more regulation, not less. Since California is such a large market for everything, including automobiles, its standards have nationwide impact. In fact, 20 states now follow California’s auto emission standards. If you make cars, you either follow California or federal standards, no one else’s. So this is not a case of states’ rights, broadly speaking. This is California vs. Washington, Gov. Jerry Brown vs. Trump, blue state vs. red state, pure and simple.

We saw California’s bully federalism earlier when it imposed a ban on the use of state money for travel to eight other states that, in California’s wisdom, do not provide sufficient legal protection for gay and transgender rights. Student athletes in California’s universities and colleges, for example, may not have the educational experience of seeing how things are done elsewhere, because California believes things are not done correctly there. As the sixth largest economy in the world, with the largest state budget, California has economic power to throw around and it seeks to leverage other states into seeing things its way.

Federalism has traditionally been a shield, protecting states from an overreaching federal government. But California’s blue-state bully federalism is more like a sword, trying to prod others into following its world view. States are required to give “full faith and credit” to the public acts, records, and court declarations of other states, according to Article IV of the Constitution. If not violating the letter of that law, California certainly disrespects and dishonors its spirit.

People will argue the auto emissions controversy both ways, but the larger story deserves attention as well. When a state sues the federal government 39 times in 19 months, something bigger is going on. In this case, California is trying to impose its own blue-state policies on immigration, civil rights, environmental standards, healthcare and more on the rest of the country wherever it can. That effort should be seen for what it is— a blue-state political power play, not a high-minded defense of federalism and states’ rights.

 

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/california-is-using-lawsuits-to-impose-blue-state-values-on-the-rest-of-the-country

Millennials Say ‘Democratic Socialism’ But What They Want Is Free Stuff (Washington Examiner) July 11, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Surprise primary victories by “democratic socialists” in New York and Pennsylvania have created a buzz about millennials and socialism. Bernie Sanders was the prophet of this movement, attracting strong support among young people for his ideas about democratic socialism in the 2016 presidential campaign. Still, people were surprised when a YouGov poll showed that young people (under 30) preferred socialism to capitalism 43 to 32 percent. With these recent political wins, some wonder whether the Democratic Party will undergo a socialist realignment, just as Donald Trump led a populist reinvention of the Republican Party.

To all of this I say: Not so fast. First, there is a widespread misunderstanding of what democratic socialism means and what millennials really want. Socialism is an economic system that involves collective (especially governmental) ownership of the means of production and distribution. It stands in contrast to a capitalist, market-regulated ownership of business. When you add the word “democratic” to it — which is presumably done to soften the impact of an historically unpopular term in the U.S. — you are essentially saying the system is chosen democratically, not imposed by some kind of totalitarian regime as in Russia or Venezuela.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, tiny Denmark found itself front and center as Bernie Sanders pointed to it as a model for his democratic socialist ideals, and Hillary Clinton felt compelled to admire it in one of the debates. But something was wrong, if not rotten, about that characterization of the state of Denmark. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen clarified that his country was not socialist, but rather “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.” High taxes and lots of government benefits, yes, but not a government-controlled economy. Ah, there’s the very important difference.

It would appear that today’s millennials are most interested in free college education, retirement of student debt, and help getting into the difficult housing market, but less interested in government controlling the means of production and distribution. In fact, a 2014 Reason-Rupe survey of young people (ages 18-24) confirmed their admiration for socialism at 58 percent. But when pollsters then asked whether they wanted governments or businesses leading the economy, they preferred markets by a two-to-one margin.

The real problem is that millennials do not seem to have a good understanding of what socialism is. In a 2010 NYT/CBS poll, only 16 percent of young people could accurately define socialism. (Not to be too hard on millennials, older folks only responded appropriately to that question at a 30 percent clip).

I am not suggesting that there are no hard-core socialists in the mix. The Democratic Socialists of America has grown dramatically since the Bernie Sanders campaign, from 7,000 members to 37,000. They could fill a small island, if not an actual city or state. But they are true believers, calling for “popular control of resources and production, economic planning and equitable distribution” in their Constitution. And they have endorsed their fellow democratic socialists in New York and Pennsylvania.

But the real question is about the millions of millennials, and I think this generation, which has been coddled by helicopter parents and seeks “safe spaces” when they go off to college, basically wants more free stuff from the government. Their concern is not who controls the means of production and distribution — in fact, they do not even understand that is what socialism is. Besides, with the voter turnout among millennials so poor — only half of those eligible voted in 2016, compared with two-thirds of older cohorts — it will be awhile before their vote will show up and make a difference. By then, the old saw says they will have paid enough taxes and experienced enough government regulation that they are likely to view things differently.

Mark me down as skeptical that a huge socialist millennial wave is about to hit our shores.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To view the column at the WashingtoExaminer: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/millennials-say-democratic-socialism-but-what-they-want-is-free-stuff

 

Making Congress Great Again and the 2018 Elections (with Gordon Lloyd), Townhall.com June 27, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Politics.
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The labels used to describe it sadly diminish the 2018 election: “Mid-term” or “off-year” or “non-presidential.” Even though nothing less than the membership and direction of the United States Congress is at stake, such elections receive limited respect and even lower voter turnout (around 40% compared with approximately 60% when there is a presidential race). What’s more, even though the president is not on the ballot, these elections are nevertheless very much a referendum on the president’s performance and popularity.

By all accounts, Congress is in a deep and steady decline and could use the voters’ attention. Its approval ratings range between 10-12%, well below President Trump’s low polling numbers of 35-42%. Overall, 41% of those polled by YouGov say Congress has accomplished even less than usual lately. Many members of Congress have been voting with their feet, choosing in near-record numbers to leave Washington rather than run for reelection. Polarization is up and deliberation is down in Congress.

Can Voters Help Congress Become Great Again?

There are a few problems with Congress that voters could help solve. One major issue is that party partisanship has overtaken institutional systems and loyalty. Formerly committee chairs in Congress wielded considerable power, overseeing hearings, entertaining amendments, fostering debate and compromise. In addition, there were more moderate and liberal Republicans, plus more moderate and conservative Democrats than today, so forging bipartisan majorities on issues was a way of doing business. Now party leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wield all the power, holding draft bills in secret, springing them on the Senate when there are enough votes to pass them, and enacting legislation on pure party-line votes, not even involving members of the other party.

Party unity voting, which was around 60% in the early 1970s is closer to 90% today in both the House and the Senate. The most important legislation of the Obama administration, The Affordable Care Act, was passed on a party-line vote of Democrats and tax reform, the signature legislative accomplishment of the Trump administration so far, was passed on a party-line vote of Republicans.

Voters need to identify more mavericks such as John McCain, who declined to join his party in repealing Obamacare because of the lack of deliberation. Leaders who will not stubbornly toe the party line but who will cross party lines if necessary to find the best policy solutions are sorely needed. In the days when the Senate was more productive, it benefited from members who held as much or more loyalty for the institution of the Senate than for their political party. Voters need to seek out more citizen legislators and fewer professional politicians beholden primarily to their party.

Can Congress Make Itself Great Again?

While voters have a role to play in making Congress great again, Congress itself will have to do the heavy lifting. For starters, Congress will need to stop deferring its powers to the president and once again carry out its own Constitutional responsibilities. For example, although Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants to Congress the power to “declare war,” Congress has essentially deferred its war powers to the president. The recent military attacks on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities were ordered by the president without the involvement of Congress. When Congress did authorize the war on terror after 9-11, that authorization has been stretched by three presidents to cover all kinds of military actions, including some against groups that did not even exist at the time of the authorization.

Other powers have been shifted away from Congress by the rise of the administrative state and the ever-expanding role of federal agency rulemaking. In their important 2016 book, Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law, Bruce P. Frohnen and George W. Carey document Congress’s inclination to delegate complex and difficult questions to administrative agencies when they legislate. Congress is now content to pass broad legislation on important subjects such as work place safety, protection of the environment and so forth, leaving the details to be worked out by federal agencies. Columnist George Will has rightly described this weakening of checks and balances as Congress “expelling rather than consolidating power,” the opposite problem from what the founders had feared.

Making Congress Deliberative Again

Congress must also do the hard work of making itself once again a deliberative body. The Senate especially, referred to by former President James Buchanan as “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” hardly deliberates any more. Changing an institution such as the U.S. Senate would be difficult under the best of circumstances, requiring a potent booster shot of political will.

For example, House and Senate leaders could shift power back to committees and committee chairs as part of a return to regular order. Certain rules adjustments, especially in the Senate, could help make the legislative process more deliberative. If the Senate wishes to maintain the filibuster, it would make sense that the cloture vote requirement be lowered from three-fifths to a simple majority, or even 55% of senators present and voting, in order to keep one senator or a small minority from clogging up the legislative process entirely. The practice of allowing a single senator to unilaterally place a “hold” on a nomination or other action should be stopped.

Conclusion

Making Congress great again will not be easy, but we need to start somewhere. Internal reform of rules alone will not be enough to restore deliberation, but it could help. Greater statesmanship, bipartisanship and civility will also be required. The goal is to return to the founders’ notion that deliberation by Congress is an important priority and a useful process. With such an important Constitutional role to play, making Congress great again ought to be top of mind when voters go to the polls this fall, and when the new Congress gathers next January.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.  Gordon Lloyd is Dockson Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.  

 To read the essay at Townhall.com:

https://townhall.com/columnists/daviddavenport/2018/06/27/making-congress-great-again-and-the-2018-elections-n2494647

National Lessons from California Election Reform (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) June 24, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-national-lessons-from-california-e/embed?style=artwork

 
This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

California lives on the edge of change. A few years ago, the Golden State adopted two big changes to its elections:  Open primaries in which voters choose candidates from any party, and a top-two primary where the top two finishers qualify for the general election, regardless of party. The idea was to elect more moderate candidates.

The results are coming in and it isn’t working. The 2018 primaries shows that Republicans still want to vote for Republicans and Democrats for Democrats. People don’t cross party lines looking for an idealized moderate candidate.

Plus: The unintended consequence is often no real choice in a general election. In 2016, two liberal Democrats ran for the Senate and in many state legislative races, there are either two Democrats or two Republicans.

Worse, candidates have gamed the system to face a weaker opponent later.

Beware election reforms from California.

I’m David Davenport.