The Federalism Project

Constitutional Reform and Governance in the U.S. (& Around the World)

House Reforms

Its been often said that the legislative process resembles the ‘sausage’ making process; that it happens behind closed doors (‘no one wants to see how the sausage is made’), where some good parts are mixed with some bad parts, for an imperfect byproduct that is at least acceptable.  I never cared much about sausages; I prefer pizza.  Pizza might have a dough of questionable origins, but the rest of the process is very open, transparent, and leads to a result one can very easily identify its ingredients.

Sausage-style legislative process, is imposed from the top, behind closed doors, and loaded with special interest provisions and other loopholes needed to get support.  Pizza-style legislative process, is a bottom-up process, that starts from a committee, that leads to a draft, that is transparent and open to amendments from the whole chamber.  This of course describes ‘regular order’ which is currently being used much less.

There is another parallel of this ‘regular order’ process for passing laws (exhaustive committee hearings by both the majority and minority, with expert testimony and authoritative reports, leading to a draft legislation, subject to a comment period, and then debated in the full chamber open to amendments by both the majority and minority), and that is the court trial.  In a trial, the back and forth between the two sides, with their testimonies and expert witnesses forms the factual basis of any future ruling by a judge or the jury.  Subsequent appeals accept the ‘trail record’ as facts.

A legislative process that involves an exhaustive debate at the committee level, with expert testimony and authoritative reports could also constitute the factual record of the subject matter, be it gun control, or global warming, or immigration.

A “regular order” legislative process is more democratic, since it’s a bottom-up process and is not controlled by the leadership.

Other possible innovation to the Congressional Legislative Process include:

Mutually Recognized Legislation

  • Each chamber needs to consider (up or down vote) the acts passes by the other, within a certain period of time (ex: if the House passes a bill and sends it to the Senate, the Senate should have to vote on it within 90 days).
  • There does not have to be any consequence, other than holding a vote and therefore requiring the other chamber to express an opinion. [However, like the Presidential veto, one can envision a system where if the other chamber does nothing, then the act moves on as is to the President for signing or a veto.
  • The implication here is that this might stop the posturing and gridlock.

Bi-annual Federal Government Budget

  • The Federal government budget, and any income tax laws changes (raising of revenues), must initiate from the House, and be subject to only amendments from the Senate (no reconciliation of tax and spend bills).
  • Move to a bi-annual government budget process, to allow for more time to work on other legislative priorities.

Mandatory ‘Sunseting’ of Acts of Congress and Government Regulations

  • Laws and regulations should not stay in force in perpetuity. Each generation should be forced to decide if they want a certain law/regulation to continue or expire.
  • All Laws should automatically expire within 24 years, unless Congress act in the affirmative to renew them.
%d bloggers like this: