The Federal Government must have Checks and Balances

The Oil Drum | DrumBeat: September 23, 2008

Madisonian Federalism has three branches and three levels, which we all should have learned in High School Civics or not been allowed to graduate. Anyway, there are a few other countries who have taken the number of branches and expanded them to four and five, while some have added another level. (Okay refresher time: Branches–Legislative, Executive, Judicial; Levels–Local, State, Federal/National.) Madison’s theory of Checks and Balances included another actor that was amended out of the Constitution in an act I belive ensured the system would become corrupted: The losing candidate for President became Vice-President in an attempt to mimic the Roman Republic’s dual Counsels who could veto each other’s decisions. What myself and others have discussed is the need for additional branches to provide more checks and balances at the national level (provided one wants to retain a national government). Most important is that officers for the new branch(es) be elected, not appointed. And because US history proves the greatest abuses of power arise in the Executive branch, the Executive will have its powers pared and duties reformulated.

Clearly, the biggest failure of the Executive is its role as regulator and law enforcer. The Departments and agencies that do this work, like the Justice Department, will be removed from the Executive and become another branch, with the Departmental heads being elected to two-year terms and their chief aides subject to congressional approval for two-year terms (the same will apply in the other executive departments, too). The same treatment will be provided for the Treasury Department and its new bank–the FEDs replacement. And if we make ourselves collectively responsible for ourselves’ wellbeing through singlepayer-universal heathcare, I would also suggest we do this for all other usual insurance–home, life, vehicle–while allowing private insurance to provide esoteric policies like special liability applied to franchise sports players, for example; and I would place this new Department alongside the new Treasury Department.

The above changes leave the President to manage defense and veterens affairs, energy and transportation, commerce and labor, interior and agriculture, and state, while one–homeland security–and parts of others will be eliminated, all will lose their regulatory agencies as noted above, and others will be merged together–Heath and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Education would be merged into the new Treasury complex. Implied by these moves is repeal of the 1946 Full Employemt Act which gave the president responsibility for maintianing full employment and thus the health of the economy and other similar statutes.

Tainter probably wouldn’t like this solution as it makes the federal government more complex, but it also makes it more democratic and accountible, and greatly reduces the opportunities for corruption. Likewise, the Legislative side also needs to be modified by adding a third house which would be totally resposible for oversight of all aspects of the federal government. It would be limited to introducing only legislation related to its oversight capacity, but it would also vote on all other legislation and be subject to the supermajority rule for over-ridding vetoes.

Aside from the new legislative branch, the overall size of the federal government should remain about the same, and in some respects it should become much more efficient and accountible. It merely expands upon Madison’s mechanisms for balancing power within government, which are now quite clearly out-of-whack. It removes a considerable amount of power from the president and makes him/her subject to greater accountibility. It would be nice to design a new government from scratch, but I think a reformulation is easier for people to accept as most of the institutions remain. My point personally is to reformulate government so it can fulfill its rationale as made clear in the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Please note how little of the above is taking place currently or has over the past 28 years. Much of what’s occurring now is actually a crisis of governmental structure as its design wasn’t made for these times or for political parties or for the amount of corruption corporations and their amorality can inject into government. That no discipline of corporations has occured for their excesses is also a crisis related to the structure of government. The great majority of the structural problems and related corruption exists in the Executive. In most states, the main executive officers are elected; the same must happen at the federal level as Congress has proven unable to disapprove of a plethora of bad nominees over the years, with the most recent bunch being the worst I can recall. I would also make the Justices of the Supreme Court subject to direct election for terms of 6 years. I believe we need more democracy, and we need it in a hurry.


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