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Andrew Yang Should Add Congressional Reform To The Forward Party Agenda
Electoral Reform is needed to fix our politics, but the structure of Congress needs fixing too.
The Forward Party
Andrew Yang established the Forward Party to advocate electoral reforms designed to tamp down the hyper-partisanship dominating our political discourse. This agenda revolves around ranked-choice voting, non-partisan primaries, and independent redistricting to eliminate politically motivated gerrymandering. As a previous candidate in a non-partisan primary for the Chicago City Council, I can personally attest to the potential of such reforms. This context encouraged a broader range of ideas, allowing candidates to express their individual perspectives instead of adhering strictly to the expectations dictated by their national party affiliations.
However, genuine political renovation requires us to look beyond just electoral reform; we must also reconsider the structure and operations of Congress. A prevalent critique of the Forward Party found online centers on the perceived lack of a comprehensive agenda. While the party has indeed brokered a consensus among some Republicans and Democrats on shared principles and electoral reform, the concern remains: when confronted with the pressing issues of the day, members might invariably retreat to their partisan strongholds.
To address this concern, the Forward Party should incorporate Congressional Reform into its platform. This will provide candidates with a more substantial policy portfolio beyond the central theme of electoral modification. While I align with Yang's electoral objectives, I believe that the party needs a more compelling, broader rallying cry rather than focusing solely on the inside baseball aspects of electoral reform. The proposed Congressional changes mirror that of the Forward Party's electoral reform agenda in one important characteristic: they are non-partisan. I believe that these five necessary alterations to Congress, aimed at restoring functionality, could garner bipartisan support, allowing both Democrats and Republicans to run on their party’s platform while embracing the Forward Agenda.
The Problem with Congress
The state of Congress today can only be described as completely dysfunctional. This is not a sensationalized headline but a sobering reflection of reality: a disheartening approval rating of 16% puts Congress below the likes of spam emails and traffic jams in public estimation. This sentiment transcends political boundaries, uniting socialists and libertarians alike in a shared conviction that Congress is failing its constituents.
The ubiquitous partisan wrangling and paralyzing gridlock that plague the House and Senate are symptomatic of a deeper malaise, a systemic flaw that underlies the legislative standstill. The two chambers have deviated from their Constitutional mandate, eschewing their legislative responsibilities in favor of dramatic theatrics better suited to cable news than the hallowed halls of governance.
The dual chambers of Congress were intentionally fashioned as distinct entities, each possessing unique characteristics designed to counterbalance the other, all while collectively serving the nation. As James Madison articulated in Federalist No. 51, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition"”
The House of Representatives, often dubbed "the People's House" due to its larger membership and shorter terms, was conceived to directly reflect the people's will. On the other hand, the Senate, initially chosen by state legislatures, was designed to embody the voice of the states within the federal government. It was also meant to tamper the potentially extreme actions of the House, as George Washington once likened the Senate to a saucer used to cool hot tea, saying, "We pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."
Beyond its role as a moderating force to "The People's House," the Senate was designed to offer advice and consent to the President and the executive branch. Whether it concerns the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice or ratifying a treaty with a foreign power, the Senate assumes an advisory and approval function—a responsibility that the House does not possess. This is true regardless of any fundraising emails one might receive from House members regarding Supreme Court appointments.
However, this delicate equilibrium has become unsettled. Per the Constitution's Article I, "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” Thus, the House of Representatives holds the exclusive constitutional authority to introduce bills pertaining to the generation of revenue, be it through taxes or tariffs. Today's Senate tramples upon this constitutional provision by continuing to author novel legislation that was originally intended to be done by the House. The erasure of the distinction between these two chambers has led to a perception of the Senate as merely an enhanced version of the House, undermining the distinct roles they were each intended to play.
Compounding this structural disintegration, both political parties have forsaken the conventional legislative process, traditionally involving the movement of legislation through committees before reaching the legislative floor. The abdication of most legislative responsibilities to party leadership has resulted in a stark deviation from the original vision. Instead of a House of Representatives championing ideas from the states and the citizenry, fostering their progression through committees, the House floor, and onto the Senate, we now grapple with a structure that Thomas Jefferson ominously referred to as "an elective despotism", where the legislation is now dictated from the top down by party leadership as opposed to bottom up.
As the reins of legislative power have gravitated towards party leadership, the individual members of both houses find themselves stuck in roles akin to what Jonah Goldberg aptly calls a ‘parliament of pundits.’ There is a discernible shift in priority towards generating sensational moments in committee hearings or on the legislative floor. These moments are manufactured in the hope of going viral on social media so that members can get booked on their preferred partisan cable news show. This shift detracts from the essential focus on crafting legislation to address America's challenges. This trend transcends party lines, evident in instances such as Jason Chaffetz trading his Congressional seat and Chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee for a role as a Fox News contributor or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wielding more influence from her 13.6 million Twitter followers than from her formal position as Vice Ranking Member on the very same Oversight committee.
To revitalize Congress and foster a return to meaningful legislation, we must recalibrate both houses to align more closely with their constitutional obligations. This endeavor calls for a series of structural transformations:
Establish congruence between House and Senate committees and their corresponding Cabinet agencies to enhance policy coordination and oversight.
Mandate exclusive committee membership for House representatives to encourage specialization and deepen expertise within legislative realms.
Disperse non-diplomatic and non-defense Cabinet agencies and their respective House oversight committees to various cities nationwide, reducing the insular nature of government and bringing it closer to the people it serves.
Guarantee that all bills that successfully navigate committee scrutiny secure a floor vote, facilitated by electronic voting options from committee rooms.
Bolster democratic representation by tripling the size of the House and implementing proportional representation, ensuring more voices are heard and more perspectives considered in the lawmaking process.
Align House and Senate committees with Cabinet agencies.
The initial stride towards legislative rejuvenation must involve fortifying the nexus between legislative oversight and executive agencies. Presently, our committee structure is beset by the problem of overlapping jurisdictions, a predicament that spawns confusion and leads to suboptimal policy outcomes. Take, for instance, a tax proposal bill; it would necessitate the involvement of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and, subsequently, the Treasury Department. A bill seeking alterations to our unemployment benefits system would also pass through the same House Ways and Means Committee but then the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) before making its way to the Department of Labor. This convoluted pattern occurs repeatedly, as the varying jurisdictions of House and Senate committees cause them to oversee several cabinet agencies. This bureaucratic maze can obstruct effective policy-making. The proposed solution is to establish clear correspondences, with each Cabinet Agency linked to a specific committee in both the House and Senate. This setup would create a more streamlined and efficient process, fostering effective policy implementation and improving oversight to ensure the executive branch faithfully represents the legislative intent.
Enforce single committee membership for House members.
Promoting subject-matter expertise and nurturing deep-seated knowledge within the congressional sphere is critical. This can be achieved by enforcing the principle of single committee membership for House members. Such an approach incentivizes representatives to cultivate proficiency in distinct policy domains, thereby fostering an environment that is collaborative and policy-centric. With a comprehensive understanding of their respective areas, members can actively participate in substantial policy discussions and devise innovative remedies for urgent challenges. Moreover, this would empower their staffers to focus solely on a single committee, honing their expertise in the respective field. Such expert-level staffing would consequently mitigate the influence lobbyists hold over the legislative process. Lobbyists often function as pseudo-staffers when briefing congressional members on complex policy matters. By enhancing staff proficiency, we can dilute this undue influence and restore balance to the process.
Relocate non-diplomatic and non-defense Cabinet agencies, as well as their oversight House committees, to cities across the country.
One of the recurrent critiques posed by political challengers is the notion of the 'Washington establishment' or the claim that their opponent has 'gone Washington.' Indeed, there is truth to the assertion that Washington DC, in its insularity, does not wholly reflect the diverse American populace. Hence, an impactful step forward would be to disperse our government beyond the boundaries of Washington and integrate it within the broader expanse of our nation. We should strategically relocate non-diplomatic and non-defense Cabinet agencies across various regions of the country.
Decentralizing executive agencies and House committees from Washington, D.C. offers an opportunity for enhanced collaboration between legislators and agency employees. Such proximity can foster a more profound comprehension of legislative intent by the executive branch, thanks to more personal and detailed exchanges. In the current system, legislative ambiguity often results in decision-making being passed onto bureaucrats rather than being handled by elected representatives, a challenge that this new setup can mitigate. By enabling legislators, who are policy experts, to work directly with agency staff, we can ensure legislative intent is not only thoroughly understood but also appropriately executed. This transition revitalizes the original premise of a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," bringing policy shapers and implementers closer to the communities they serve.
The geographical dispersion of legislative bodies and agencies holds the potential to bring the government closer to the people it serves. Consider situating the Department of Agriculture in Omaha, the epicenter of the U.S. agricultural sector. Such a move would bridge the gap between legislators, agency staff, and the agricultural community, fostering more direct and meaningful interactions. This relocation not only provides a stage for immediate dialogues but also encourages a mutual understanding often lost in the existing model. It is a practical embodiment of the principle of a free people to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Closer proximity to the governed also facilitates the creation of more informed laws crafted from firsthand insights into the industries they impact. This improved accessibility allows grievances to be promptly heard and addressed, enhancing the credibility of the government and reinforcing its relevance among its constituents.
Guarantee floor votes for bills that pass out of committee & allow members to vote electronically or from their committee rooms for full floor votes
To counter legislative stagnation and guarantee a prompt response to policy issues, it is imperative to revise House regulations to guarantee floor votes for every bill that successfully proceeds from committees. Following the nationwide committee evaluations, all Congress members would then partake in a comprehensive house floor vote conducted electronically. This system would prevent individual members or the leadership from stymieing legislation, thereby enabling Congress to concentrate on policy matters of utmost relevance to the American populace. Additionally, this modification would redistribute power from Congressional leadership, restoring it to the rank-and-file members, thereby reinvigorating the democratic spirit of the institution.
Triple the size of the House and introduce proportional representation.
To uphold the democratic spirit of our governance, it is essential to consider a significant expansion of the House of Representatives. During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, George Washington underscored this sentiment. Breaking his customary silence, he advocated for a more expansive body of representatives, arguing it was essential to ensure the diverse will of the populace was adequately mirrored in Congress. Today, each representative serves an estimated 710,000 constituents, a figure that inhibits their ability to effectively engage with and understand the unique needs of their communities. Enlarging the number of representatives could foster deeper connections and give voice to a wider array of interests within Congress.
Moreover, the integration of multi-member districts could stimulate a more balanced and inclusive political landscape. Within such configurations, a multitude of representatives can express a range of perspectives in Congress, thereby reflecting a more accurate representation of the district's demographic and ideological composition. This innovative approach to representation may catalyze the emergence of third parties. For instance, if a candidate merely needs to secure a third-place finish to gain a seat in Congress, certain districts may present viable opportunities for socialist, libertarian, or truly independent candidates. While this may not herald a surge of third-party influence, it promises to ensure that all ideologies substantially present within the American populace have at least one corresponding representative in Congress. This development signifies a step toward a more inclusive and representative democracy.
These multi-member districts could also inject a much-needed sense of moderation into our polarized political climate. Candidates, in an effort to appeal to a broader audience, would be incentivized to propose policies with widespread support, encouraging bipartisan compromise and more effective governance. Moreover, this arrangement would curtail opportunities for gerrymandering, ensuring a more genuine reflection of popular sentiment.
An expansion of the House could also reduce the high costs associated with campaigns. By reducing the size of each constituency, campaign costs decrease, which in turn reduces the reliance of candidates on special interest groups. Furthermore, an increased number of representatives would dilute individual fame, shifting the focus from personal celebrity to policy-making competence. This could deter fame-seeking individuals from running for office in the first place, promoting a political arena filled with dedicated public servants.
The proposed changes hold the promise of returning both the House of Representatives and the Senate to their intended functions and positions in the American political system. The House, with its larger membership and renewed focus on committee action, could reclaim its pivotal role in creating innovative legislation to address the nation's concerns. Their relocation outside of Washington D.C. is symbolic of their proximity to the people and, more specifically, to the industries they oversee. This shift aims to reconnect representatives with the communities they serve, fostering an environment where legislative action is intimately tied to the issues and interests of their constituents.
The Senate, meanwhile, will concentrate on its constitutional duty of executive oversight, taking a more systemic perspective in shaping legislation from the House into robust and enduring laws. With Senators serving on multiple committees, they will function as legislative generalists, examining a broad array of issues and ensuring that laws are scrutinized and well-structured. In contrast, House members will evolve into legislative specialists, gaining in-depth knowledge in their respective fields and thereby driving focused and informed legislative initiatives.
These changes aim to restore the delicate balance between the two chambers and align them more closely with their original design and purpose. By encouraging Representatives and Senators to fulfill their unique roles, we can hope for a legislative branch that is more responsive, more thoughtful, and more effective in its mission to serve the American people.
Suggested Agency Relocations
State & Defense: Remain in Washington DC
Housing and Urban Development: Indianapolis
Health and Human Services: Atlanta
Homeland Security: Austin or San Antonio, or Dallas
Interior: Las Vegas or Salt Lake City
Transportation: Detroit or Kansas City
Small Business Administration: Cleveland
Veterans Affairs: Nashville
Federal Reserve: St Louis
EPA: Los Angeles or Phoenix, or Denver
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Miami
National Park Service: Denver
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): New York
National Science Foundation (NSF): Detroit
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): Kansas City
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): Charlotte
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): Chicago
General Services Administration (GSA): Dallas