During the government shutdown, two articles, both written by Ian Millhiser, appeared on the website ThinkProgress. These articles offered two different suggestions for preventing future government shutdowns. One suggestion comes from Canada’s system of government, the other from Chile’s system of government.
The Canadian Model
As I stated in a previous post, Canada has special elections whenever their Parliament fails to pass a budget to fund the government, thus preventing a shutdown. I propose that here in the U.S., whether Congress fails to pass a budget to fund the government or the President vetos the budget and this is not resolved by a certain deadline, both Congress and the President are subject to special elections. Members of Congress that are blamed by the majority of their constituents could get voted out and if the majority of Americans blame the President, he (or she) could get voted out.
This alone, however doesn’t address the problem of gerrymandering, so people of the same majority party that is not liked by a majority of Americans could still get reelected to the House. Therefore, gerrymandering needs to be addressed as well.
Another drawback is that Canada has a parliamentary system of government, whereas the United States has a presidential system. In parliamentary systems, the executive (i.e. the Prime Minister) is not elected by the people but is chosen by the majority in Parliament (of course, there are variations of this from country to country). Thus in parliamentary systems, the Prime Minister is typically with the majority in Parliament and this is why parliamentary systems are usually more efficient in passing legislation than in presidential systems. In our presidential system, the executive (i.e. the President) is elected (though not directly because of the electoral college) and is not always with the majority in Congress. Therefore, after a special election, you could still have the President being of one political party and the majority of both houses of Congress being of an opposition party and thus, it could still be difficult to pass a budget on which both sides agree.
The Chilean Model
Chile has a presidential democracy similar to ours, except in Chile, the President has more powers than the President of the United States. I won’t go into the details of all the powers the Chilean President has. For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus only on the fact that the Chilean President can declare a bill “urgent” and, thus, force the Congress to vote on it. If the U.S. President had that power, he could have forced Congress to vote on a “clean” continuing resolution to reopen the government and a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling, thus overriding Speaker Boehner’s refusal to bring such bills to the House floor. Of course, the majority of Congress could have voted against the bills, but with 24 Republicans saying they would have supported a “clean” CR and 200 Democrats in the House likely to have voted “yes”, it’s likely the bills would have passed and, thus, the government would have been reopened. Using such a power might have prevented a government shutdown in the first place.
Of course, in the American context, giving the President such a power would be viewed with skepticism, and I view it the same way. If the President of the United States had the power to force a vote on a certain bill, what if Congress voted against his wishes? Would he keep forcing a vote until Congress voted the way he wanted? Congress wouldn’t be able to take up other legislation, including legislation their constituents want. The President having the ability to force a vote in Congress is not a democratic solution to preventing government shutdowns.
I largely favor the Canadian model over the Chilean model. The Canadian model does have drawbacks, but it is a more democratic solution to preventing future government shutdowns. I propose we pass a constitutional amendment stating that if Congress or the President fail to pass a bill or budget to continue funding the government, a special election for both Congress and the President is automatically triggered. There is one small aspect I do take from the Chilean model, however; the amendment should also say that after the special election, Congress’s first order of business is to pass a bill or budget to fund the functions of the government and that Congress should pass no other legislation until such a bill or budget is passed by Congress and signed by the President.