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Congressional Legislative Reform
Much care has been taken in this book to make proposals that adequately
correct the current imbalance of power within our government that unjustly favors the
powerful, wealthy few:
A new fourth branch, the demos, would be added to our
government that opposes, compliments, and balances the current branches of
government. The result is that a new balance of power would be created in which no
particular faction can hold an undue measure of power.
The demos would consist of the entire electorate practicing
a new kind of democracy called consensus democracy by directly
deliberating, voting, and achieving consensus on nine of our nation’s most
fundamental economic issues, setting economic values that our government and
nation must use as they function. Along with three other economic powers, the demos would be given the sole power to tax.
The entire electorate, as opposed to the privileged few, would be empowered
to determine the overall size and distribution of our federal tax burden.
The demos would also have an entirely new electoral system
for the election of the president, senators, and representatives. Senators
would be elected from the nation at-large and representatives from states
at-large. From these large pools, members of the electorate of similar
appearance, mind, interests, and pocketbook would be empowered to reach out
to each other and elect their champions to office, senators and
representatives who truly resemble and represent them. No one would be stuck
voting for a “lesser evil” preselected by the wealthy as is done today.
This system would break the stranglehold that the wealthy currently have on
our nation’s electoral process and result in a senate and a house that
demographically resemble and honestly serve the entire electorate. Once in
office, the length of the second portion of an officeholder’s term in
office would depend on the electorate’s continued support. One could be
reelected to the senate or the house only after a break from the previous
term of service.
Yet, for all of this, an important power distribution problem remains. As the
senate and the house currently function, those legislators who already have
advantage take even more advantage, unjust advantage. For generations, those who
have held and wielded the most power in the senate and the house have taken even
more power whenever and however they could manage it. The results are
1) extremely complex and intricate rules and legislative processes designed
to help established members concentrate and manipulate power and 2) offices
and committees chaired and populated by an “old-boys’ club” of
repeatedly elected, self-favoring members. They hold and wield an undue hegemony
of power within the senate and the house while minimizing the power of newly
elected legislators. New members are made to toe party and political lines and
do what is expected of them or face severe repercussions. Thus, a potentially
democratic legislative and representational process becomes subverted and
monopolized by the mightiest few, and, in yet another way, the populace becomes
unequally represented within government.
Clearly, if the redesign and reform of our government is to be successful, it
must be complete. It must extend within the senate and the house. This
reform need not deal directly with the minutia of the current legislative rules
and processes. Any injustice, inappropriateness, or inefficiency contained
within the many details will be corrected in due time by the congressional
membership if the following changes are made to both the house and the senate:
All systems of seniority and appointment should be scrapped. No senator
or representative should be able to occupy any senate or house office, seat,
position, or committee as a right of seniority or by appointment. All such
positions should be filled by the secret voting of the entire membership of
the senate or the house.
All rules regarding the parliamentary, procedural, and legislative
processes, including within secondary or specialized offices and committees,
should be determined by the secret voting of the entire membership of the
senate or the house.
While voting on these matters would be conducted in secret,
any debates for or against particular members or rules would be public. The
particular votes cast would remain secret, but the overall vote counts would be
made public. A member might elect to remain silent during such debates and as to
how he or she has voted or will vote.
Elections of members to committees and other bodies and
positions should be conducted in a manner similar to the demos electoral
process. For example, all fifteen seats of a given senate committee would be
filled using a single Candidates list for the committee. Within the limits of
further rules that would likely apply, e.g., how many chairs or other
positions a senator may occupy, each member of the senate may add his or her own
or another senator’s name to the committee’s Candidates list or vote for a
senator whose name is already on the list. Every member of the senate would have
a secret vote continuously riding on one candidate for the committee that he or
she may change at any time. The fifteen senators on the Candidates list for the
committee currently earning the most votes would actively sit on the committee.
The senator currently earning the most votes would serve as the committee chair
or head. Once elected to the committee a senator would remain on the committee
for a given minimum length of time after which the senator would continue to
serve only so long as his or her name remains in one of the top fifteen
positions on the committee’s Candidates list up to a maximum length of time,
if any, that a senator may remain on the committee.
This demos style method of filling all fifteen seats on the
committee by each senator only being able to vote for one candidate from the
senate at-large would render the selection process democratic and insure that
the widest possible spectrum of views is present on the committee, conservatives
would back conservative members for the committee, liberals would back liberals,
A similar demos style electoral process and Candidates list
would exist for every committee and other body or position in the senate and the
house. As a duty of office, every senator or representative would have one vote
riding on a candidate in each Candidates list that exists in the senate or
house. The suitable number of candidates at the top of each body’s or position’s
Candidates list would be seated in the body or position. When a senator or
representative lost his or her seat, the senator’s or representative’s votes in the Candidates
lists would be “inherited” by the new, incoming senator or representative
who may alter one or more votes at any time as desired.
Any currently existing legislative rule or procedure could at any suitable
time be subjected to the same deliberative and secret voting process as any
newly proposed rule or procedure. To prevent the excessive creation,
modification, and rescinding of rules, all rule changes would require a
two-thirds super-majority vote of the senate or the house membership. A
two-thirds super-majority vote requirement would also protect against the
creation of rules and procedures that somehow favor a very narrow simple majority led by
ideological or other extremists. Requiring the achievement of a two-thirds
majority would favor more moderate rules and procedures that serve the nation as
While I do not make it a formal proposal in this work, I would
like to see the senate dump the filibuster overboard.
The intent of secret voting while populating committees and designing
parliamentary and procedural rules is to free all members, but in particular the
newer and weaker members, of the senate and the house from the oversight and
control of parties, power groups, and stronger members. This would significantly
democratize these processes and, ultimately, the entire legislative process.
The debate of and voting on legislation being proposed and considered
should be entirely a matter of public record.
The consensus style democracy and voting method practiced by
the demos when voting on its nine economic issues could also be admirably
applied within the senate and the house where applicable.
Recall from earlier discussion that for an issue to be handled
by the consensus democracy voting method in the demos it must be numerically
expressible and lend itself to mathematical treatment by the demos computers.
But most political questions, e.g., Should the nuclear plant be built?,
are of a yes/no nature and do not lend themselves to consensus democracy,
require the majority-rule, winner-take-all voting method of old, and must be
left to other areas of government and society. Further, the demos could only
handle a very limited number of clear, easily presentable issues. Therefore,
there would be no shortage of less important numerically expressible issues that
would also have to be left to other areas of government and society along with
the majority-rule issues, e.g., What should be the size NASA’s annual
Although most of the issues that are handled by the senate and
the house are of the yes/no, majority-rule form, they handle many numerically
expressible issues that could and should be handled by consensus style
democracy. This would result in values for the issues that homeostatically hover
about moderate norms over time like the demos economic issues, as opposed to the
periodic, jerky, majority-rule, winner-take-all tug of war among officeholders
that we have today.
Perhaps an issue that could be handled in a consensus
democracy manner by the senate or the house would only be handled so if
two-thirds of the senate or the house members voted to make it so. Then it would
become an ongoing issue with each member of the senate or the house having a vote—increase,
keep as is, or decrease—permanently riding on the issue that he or she may
change at any time. An incoming senator or representative would inherit
the votes of the outgoing officeholder, votes that he or she may change at any
Today in America we are deeply divided over many issues. Both
within the general populace and within congress, we are rapidly becoming
increasingly polarized at extreme positions on the issues. Despite our differing
views, a demos would automatically produce a moderate, peacefully evolving
consensus on its included nine economic issues. And the demos electoral process
would automatically result in a senate and a house that demographically resemble
the entire electorate in body, mind, interests, and pocketbook, which may also
be taken to be the electorate’s consensus. The moderate, reasonable consensus
of the demos on issues would produce a political center toward which many minds
would shift, strengthening the center, the common ground, and weakening the
Using consensus style democracy in the senate and the house
(and in other areas of government) when and wherever it could be applied would
have a similar effect on the operation of the legislature and the government as
a whole. Both economically and politically, the legislature and the government
as a whole would tend toward a moderate center and away from extremes.
Given this shifting toward common ground and a huge measure of
peacefully evolving, moderate agreement within the electorate and its elected
representatives, those issues on which people still remained extreme and
intractable would be much less earthshaking and disruptive to our society.
A political-economic system is not neutral. It affects the
mental state of everyone living under it, in a way molding everyone into its
image. A system of extremes creates a populace of extremes. Change the system to
one of inclusion, justness, and moderation and its citizens will move away from
extreme polarization on most issues most of the time and toward peaceful common ground.
Unlike many people’s proposals for correcting what ails our government,
no attempt is made in this work to render the details of the legislative process
or the resulting legislation more rational
or high-minded. While such reforms are, indeed, needed, no reforms of
legislative details will correct what is most fundamentally wrong with our government. Without first
correcting the profoundly unbalanced distribution of power within our government
by the creation of a demos and the other proposals made in this book, rendering
the legislative process more efficient and rational would only create a more
efficient injustice. Once the fundamental distribution of power problem is
corrected and the senate and house are populated by a distribution of people
that resembles the entire electorate in body, mind, interests, and pocketbook and truly represents the entire electorate, then the members of the
now-more-democratic senate and house would be in the position to and should
correct in a just manner what ails the legislative process and current
Human beings and their actions will never be entirely
rational. It is irrational to expect them to devise an entirely rational
legislative process. While significant reform of the current legislative process
is possible, one should not expect the legislative process to rise very much
above the level of “horse trading” and “wheeling and dealing.” Under the
partial redesign of government proposed in this book, at least the horse trading will be conducted by members of bodies
that resemble and truly represent the entire populace and function more
With legislative bodies that resemble and represent the entire
populace, there is every reason to harbor the hope that government will serve
the greater good and we may at long last achieve “the good society.”
This book contains no alterations within the judicial
branch of our government. The Supreme Court already functions as well as can be
However, our current manner of selecting justices for the
Court is deeply flawed. It can and does result in excessive liberal-conservative
swings in the Court. Therefore, the manner in which justices would be selected
for the Supreme Court is changed as follows:
The president would no longer select and the senate would no
candidates as is done today. People would be elected to the Court in a manner
similar to the ongoing process of electing the president, senators, and
representatives in the
demos. That is, all nine of the Court’s judicial positions would be filled by
people elected from the nation at-large, with each voter keeping a vote
continuously riding on only one candidate, that he or she may change at any
time. However, in the case of Supreme Court justices, people would not campaign
or run for office. And the electoral process would not take place in the demos
or involve the entire electorate. It would take place in congress and involve
all of its members jointly, (not the senate and house as separate bodies).
However many people received votes, the nine people in the
Judicial Candidates list currently
possessing the most votes (and who accepted office) would be seated as justices.
Among them, the person currently holding the most votes of all would be seated
as Chief Justice.
However, before a potential justice may be seated in the
Court, he or she must appear before a formal joint congressional committee that
publicly examines his or her constitutional qualifications, legal experience and
competence, and political, social, and legal views. The committee would not vote
on the candidate but only ask questions. Just as at any other time, during this
proceeding any member of congress may alter his or her vote for a Supreme Court
justice candidate. Thus, at this eleventh hour, a potential justice could still lose
sufficient support to actually become a justice.
Having passed through this
process and still retaining a sufficient number of votes, the candidate would
become a seated member of the Court. Once elected to the Court, a justice would
remain a member of the Court for a minimum of eight years and, beyond that, only
so long as he or she retained a sufficient number of congressional votes to
remain in one of the top nine positions in the Judicial Candidates list. Once a justice
retires or loses sufficient support to stay on the Court, he or she may never be
elected to the Court again.
No congressional hearing would be required but only the
gaining of a sufficient number of votes for an already-seated Supreme Court
justice to be elevated to the position of Chief Justice. Once elected Chief
Justice, one would remain Chief Justice for a minimum of four years and beyond
that only so long as he or she held the top position in the Judicial Candidates list. A
person could lose the position of Chief Justice and still retain enough votes to
remain a member of the Court. So long as the justice retains a sufficient number
of votes to remain a member of the Court, he or she could lose and later regain
enough votes to serve as Chief Justice repeatedly.
When a senator’s or a representative’s time in office ended for whatever
reason, then his or her vote for a Supreme Court justice is inherited by
the replacement officeholder. The new officeholder may than alter the vote at
his or her pleasure.
Under our current government and under any kind of government
in which people make the choices, the appointment of justices is and always will be
politically motivated. Justices are not impartial in their interpretation of
constitutional law, and they never will be. That is humanly impossible. To think
or claim otherwise is laughable.
Disgruntled people often accuse supposedly activist Supreme
Court justices of unjustly making law. But all political actions—including
Court decisions, both those that change and those that preserve the status quo—are
activist positions. To hang on to their undue advantage, those who most benefit
from our current unjust Constitution champion a narrow interpretation that
favors them. Those that the Constitution disfavors try to gain a bit of justness by interpreting the
Constitution more loosely. We would do better to create a just Constitution and
government in the first place, which, of course, is what this book is about.
Due to the manner in which justices are currently selected,
over time the Supreme Court as a whole often swings too far toward liberal and
conservative extremes. The system of electing justices proposed here would
result in a Court that is both more stable and that sports a wider variety of
views. Since a justice may be elected by more or less one-ninth of the
congressional vote, we should expect one justice that is quite liberal and
another that is quite conservative. We should expect a moderately liberal
justice and a moderately conservative justice. But, like most members of the
electorate and, therefore, most members of a demos-elected, truly representative
congress, most members elected to the Court would be moderates. While including
a wider variation in views than today, the Court as a whole would usually remain
moderate in its interpretations of the Constitution.
So, as has been exampled in this chapter, adapted as needed
the consensus democracy used by the demos for achieving consensus on its
economic issues can be used wherever applicable within any government in the
world and at any level of government to achieve the consensus of an electorate
or the members of governing bodies on economic issues. And the free, ongoing,
at-large demos style electoral system can be used by an electorate to elect
officeholders to any kind of governing body at any level of government and
within governing bodies to populate internal seats and positions such as
committees, councils, etc. or other bodies such as courts. In every case such
elections, if conducted correctly and honestly, are truly democratic and result
in governing bodies, committees, etc, that demographically resemble and truly
represent their entire electorates.
Is there anyone in the land that is not
entirely frustrated by the twisted, tortured legislative process of
congress as it currently functions and by the equally twisted, tortured
legislation that results from the process?
Earlier I stated that the demos should have
a special area for deliberation of the Constitution. Among the issues I
suggested that the electorate might debate is the question: Would a single
legislature be wiser than our current bicameral legislature, i.e., our
current house and senate?
A few months ago I was struck by a new idea
that has plagued my mind ever since. I believe my mind keeps returning to
it because it is a really good idea. I
do not present this idea to you as a formal proposal in this work but
only to lay it before you for consideration.
In the demos each member of the electorate
keeps one vote riding on a candidate for senator and one vote for a
representative to the house. Senators are elected at-large nationally and
representatives are elected at-large within states.
Well, what if we elected to move from a
bicameral to a single legislature by simply merging the house and the
senate into a single body? We would end up with a legislative body with
about 535 members, 100 of them elected at-large nationally for a given
term of office and about 435 members elected at-large within states for a
To indicate who has been elected nationally
and who has been elected within states, officeholders could even keep
their current titles. But in every way—when proposing, deliberating, and
voting on legislation or on changes to the legislative process itself,
when voting to populate or when serving on committees, etc.—all members
of the legislature would function in the same way; senators and
representatives would not do specialized stuff in the legislature by
virtue of their titles or the electoral paths that got them there.
The legislative process would be greatly
simplified not only because today’s bicameral mess got the boot (and the
filibuster please!) but also because of the good effect of the two changes
I described earlier in this chapter regarding a new way of populating
committees, etc. and of creating and altering legislative procedures and
rules. And no “old-boys’ club” would dominate this simplified and
more democratically functioning legislature.
What an interesting body! There would be an
unending slow trickle over time of members entering and leaving the
legislature, each on his or her own timeline, as terms were finished and
as demos members altered their votes over time. Each member of the
legislature would enjoy a widely distributed network of electoral support.
Power within the legislature would be complexly distributed, no person or
group possessing an excessive amount. The legislature as a whole would
demographically resemble the entire electorate in body, mind, interests,
and pocketbook and honestly serve the entire electorate as it created laws
and rules for our market economy and the rest of our society.
Food for thought.
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Beyond Plutocracy - Direct Democracy for America
© Copyright 2001-2017 Roger D Rothenberger