“Why American Democracy Is Broken, and How to Fix It”

Jeet Heer in TNR:

Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, wondered in a 2013 article whether this called for drastic measures: “The partisanship of our political branches and the mismatch with our structure of government raise the fundamental question: Is the United States political system so broken that we should change the Constitution to adopt a parliamentary system—either a Westminster system, as in the United Kingdom, or a different form of parliamentary democracy?” His formulation of the question, though, was too blunt. As he noted, any such constitutional change would be nearly impossible, especially given the gridlock that already exists. Thus, a Catch-22: The system is so broken that it needs to be changed, but there is no way to change it because the system is so broken.

One way to out of this paradox might to move toward something closer to a de facto parliamentary system, one that wouldn’t require constitutional change. The Senate could remove barriers like the filibuster, which prevents a simple majority from effecting change. Democrats might want to hold on to the filibuster now because it’s a guardrail against Republican policy, but in the long run, the political system would be more effective and accountable.

Congress could also restore now disused procedures like “regular order,” which McCain drew attention to in Tuesday’s speech. “Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order,” he said. “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” As Peter C. Hanson of the Brookings Institution explains, regular order is “the budget procedure for debating and passing individual appropriations bills in each chamber. Today this procedure has been replaced by the passage of huge ‘omnibus’ packages at the end of the session, with little scrutiny and opportunity for amendment.” A few procedural changes (including, as it happens, limiting the filibuster) could bring regular order back to life, making budgeting decisions much more orderly and rule-bound. …


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