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FROM CONGRESS TO PARLIAMENT
WITHOUT FIRING A SHOT
At the time the Constitution was being written, George Washington was concerned that the Constitution gave no way to keep a small group of persons from obstructing the governance of our country. And here we are, today, with the Tea Party zealots up against an apathetic, but dissatisfied citizenry. I have become alarmed from the results of a recent survey, which looked at media usage from different perspectives, which claims that 1/3 of individuals spend as little as an average of 12 seconds a day listening to or reading about political matters on TV or the internet. The inequality between informed Americans and uninformed Americans is worse that the income inequality that exists in our country. Americans are SOOOO uninformed. And countering this apathy is paramount.
As James Wilson, the writer of the Constitution, argued at the time of his writing, ‘If a sufficient number of citizens are unhappy with how they are being governed, that government will cease to exist.’ He also said, that from the way the constitution was being constructed, it is difficult to determine how a MAJOR TRANSITION can be made in how we are being governed. His sentiment was that there aught to be a way for unhappy citizens to make a popular amendment—but, he said, it is difficult to determine how that might come about. By the way, if you care to learn more about the United States Constitution, I recommend Akhil Reed Amar’s book, America’s Constitution: A Biography, which was published in 2006.
Wisely, the framers of the Constitution gave us a way to make improvements in how we are being governed. That way is the passage of Amendments.
Let’s briefly outline the principal way an Amendment comes into being in the United States.
1. Bills for an Amendment are proposed separately in the two houses of Congress, where they are debated. If the bills are passed by 2/3rds of the legislators in each House of Congress, then the bills become combined into a Joint Resolution which is sent to each of the 50 States. The Joint Resolution is placed upon each State’s ballot so citizens may vote for ratification of the Amendment.
2. If 50% of the voters in the election vote for ratification, ratification becomes law in that STATE.
3. When 3/4ths of the 50 states (that’s 38 states) pass ratification of the Joint Resolution, then the Joint Resolution is sent to the President for his signature, and the Amendment becomes the law of the land.
By the way, the President has no role in the amendment process. He cannot veto an amendment proposal. And he cannot veto a ratification. However he is free to express his opinion.
At this time, more than 80% of United States voters are unhappy with the way our Congress is governing, or rather, not governing, our country. The question is ‘Are enough voters sufficiently unhappy for efforts to be made for major changes?’ Are there examples of more effective governments? Are there alternatives we might adopt directly, rather than stepping into the dangers of innovation?
The United States experienced the zenith of its admiration at the end of WWII. Still, European countries, re-establishing their governments, chose parliamentary governance over our constitutional system. Even at that time it was apparent that our Constitution was impairing the facility with which we were being governed. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: ‘The parliamentary form of government is the WORST form of government, EXCEPT for all the rest.’
Our next door neighbor, Canada, may have an embarrassing Toronto mayor, but Canada also is a parliamentary democracy which
1. A balanced economy, with no needed debt ceiling, no sequesters, and no filibusters.
2. A very effective universal health care system, administered by the government, at a fraction of the cost people in the United States pay. (Citizens NEVER pay a doctor’s bill or a hospital bill, they just show up for services; and they do this as freely as children in the United States show up for attending first grade at public schools.)
3. An excellent educational system from preschool through graduate school,
4. A housing market that is booming,
5. An infrastructure that is in good repair,
6. Citizens who own only hunting rifles,
7. and the country’s legislators are not bought by money.
The Parliamentary system differs in two main ways from our Constitutional system.
The first is that countries with parliamentary systems have only one legislative body, while the United States has two. Our states follow the same bicameral legislative system --except for Nebraska. Nebraska decided it did not wish to pay for duplication of legislation and it adopted a successful unicameral legislative system. Nebraska’s precedent can help show the way for bringing the United States into a unicameral legislative system. I will not be covering here the particulars of arriving at a unicameral system.
The second difference is the way elections are conducted and the way the country proceeds to govern itself. Let’s use Canada as an example.
In Canada election districts are called ridings. The population of each riding is approximately the same across Canada. Each riding elects one representative to Parliament, regardless of the number of candidates running for office in the riding.
The Head of the party with the most elected legislators in Parliament becomes the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister’s party holds a majority of the seats in parliament, the Prime Minister and his party can immediately set about implementing the party’s agenda--without interference from minority parties. If the Prime Minister’s party does not have a majority of the seats in parliament, a coalition or coalitions must be formed with another party or parties. Party members are obliged to vote for the party platform. Governance of the country follows until there is sufficient unhappiness with the platform of the ruling party, at which time another election is called. Elections can occur at any time; campaigning covers about 33 days. There are no limits on the number of times the Prime Minister can be elected. Legislators are not bought by money. Persons and businesses can donate only a total of $12,500 during each election campaign. Legislators may not receive donations at any other time. Laws are strictly enforced by jailing and finings.
We can acquire for ourselves what Canada has, IF we push for parliamentary governance. We will need to push hard because our federal legislators are not going to volunteer to give up all the perks and money they receive from special interests and lobbyists working for companies. Indeed legislators running for office recently have been likened to MAFIA LORDS who extract payments from persons and businesses, in return for their votes.
So what amendment might we make to our Constitution to bring about a more perfectly functioning government? Let me suggest the following:
FROM THIS DAY FORWARD THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHALL BE GOVERNED AS A PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY.
We have been led to believe that passage of an amendment is a difficult and lengthy process, and indeed hundreds of bills have failed to achieve passage. However, the 26th Amendment, granting voting rights to 18 year olds, was ratified in only three months and 8 days. Some states ratified the amendment the same day the Joint Resolution was issued, and other states quickly followed with their ratifications. Obviously, arrangements had been made in advance, so that voting upon ballots could take place in the States on or before the date the Joint Resolution was issued. Just like when Legislators got busy and passed legislation so they could avoid travel delays at airports, when legislator’s interests are paramount, they CAN get the job done!
Amendments are said to START as bills in Congress. But in actuality much takes place even before a bill is submitted in Congress. We citizens can encourage candidates for federal legislative office to run on a platform which supports passage of our amendment. Then we must vote those candidates into office. Once in office, our newly elected legislators can submit the necessary bills and the process toward ratification can proceed.
We can interest candidates for federal office to run on a platform for change. We might decide to call that change a reconstitution of our constitution. Regardless of what we call the change, we need to arrive at a way to keep the laws of our country up to date. What we are currently doing in the United States when passing each law is the equivalent of pasting a digital dashboard upon a rusty Model T Ford, or even pasting a digital dashboard upon a horse and buggy. When we achieve parliamentary governance, we, like Canada, will be able to move behind the steering wheel of a brand new Cadillac every time a new model rolls off the assembly line. In other words, we will be able to drive our up-to-date government forward. In the background, Canada has a Bill of Rights and Freedoms. We can keep our Bill of Rights, too! I thoroughly believe that if our Founding Fathers reappeared in our present day, in their wisdom they would advise us to embrace the more effective parliamentary system of government.
In the mean time, while we are waiting for the date to vote upon our candidates for legislative office, we can make a separate push to expedite passage of our ‘Amendment of Interest.’
That push is called an initiative, and is similar to efforts made in Wisconsin to recall Governor Scott Walker. Committees can be set up in each state for collecting signatures of voters wishing passage of our proposed new amendment. When sufficient signatures have been collected, and other state requirements have been met, the signatures can be presented to state legislatures with the request that the proposition for ratification of the amendment be placed upon the state’s ballot. State legislatures are obliged, by law, to respond favorably to placing a proposition for an amendment upon their state’s ballot. In fact, a state’s legislature can move on its own to place a proposition for ratification of an amendment upon its state’s ballot.
With belief in the process outlined here, we can move forward.
Even though we may be unsuccessful with persuading our legislators to propose bills for The Amendment, we citizens can let the strength of our sentiment become known. Then, over time, we can inch ever closer to our goal of a more perfect union.
The chances of success for passing our amendment may be small, BUT, as Elizabeth Warren assures us, ‘If we do not make an effort, it is 100% guaranteed we will not succeed.’
I also would like President Obama to take a presidential initiative to put an end to current healthcare sign-up issues. Why not simply declare the United States government as the single payer overseer of healthcare. Even if taxes may need to be increased, the increase will be less for everyone and companies (at least on the average, but likely much less) than the cost has been in the past. EVERYONE will be covered and we ALL will have excellent health care coverage. Furthermore, more persons receiving good healthcare services will help increase the number of jobs; ie., It will increase the number of persons being employed. This is a win-win situation! And universal healthcare is what the citizens of the United States want.