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Radical Plan: Make Congress Actually Vote!

Attempting to circumvent the legislative process should be treason

By J.P. PragPublished about a year ago 15 min read
Engraving by Savage, Edward, 1761–1817, engraver; Pine, Robert Edge, 1730?-1788, artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

» KEY POINTS

  • Many Amendments to the Constitution are needed in order to force bills to be discussed and voted upon in a timely manner.
  • The leaders of each chamber must have their power to control the legislative process severely curtailed so that minority voices can be heard.
  • Legislation must be clean and single clause in order to avoid pork and allow each element to be reviewed and approved on its own. All Congresspeople must vote and cannot avoid their duty to do so.

By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 11 shall be added.

Article 1 of the Constitution currently ends at Section 10 without giving any direction on how Congress is supposed to function. In order to alleviate this error of judgement by the founders, we are going to add an entirely new section to the existing document with its own clauses.

Clause 1 shall read:

The Speaker of the House of Representative and the President or President pro Tempore of the Senate shall be responsible for scheduling all debate and voting of their respective chambers.

While the positions of Speaker of the House and President/President pro Tempore of the Senate are laid out in the Constitution, there is nothing that states what those responsibilities include. This Clause is focused on giving them a very specific responsibility: setting the agenda and calendar for debate and voting. Notice, as well, that is it the President of the Senate (the Vice President of the United States) or the President pro Tempore who are setting the agenda in the upper chamber and not the “Majority Leader”. Being that that Majority Leader is not a recognized position, we should work in the framework of the Constitution to grant responsibility to an existing position.

Thus far, this codifies what is happening today in the House and shifting the responsibility in the Senate — yet to the same result. Here, two people still have control over what their respective chamber is doing at any time. Therefore, the rest of the Clauses need to limit that control and make sure all Representatives and Senators are equal, as well as create checks on power overall from other branches of the government.

Clause 2 shall read:

Any legislation proposed by individual members of each chamber should be considered for schedule and voting by the leaders of the respective chambers. The leader of the chamber may refuse to add the legislation to the schedule, however if the legislation is sponsored by ten percent or more of the chamber it must be added to the schedule within thirty days of presenting the required sponsorship to the leader of the chamber.

Basically, this is a codification of how an item is going to come up for vote. The leader of each chamber should act as a gatekeeper because someone needs to be operations manager. But at the end of the day, they are subordinate to the will of all other legislators. The first part of this Clause makes it so anyone can present an item to the leader and the leader can just add it to the agenda with no questions asked. However, given there is a possibility for extreme fringe views to make it into a chamber (especially the House of Representatives), the leaders do have a filter mechanism to control what would ultimately waste time.

That is where the next override comes into place where the legislator who proposed the item need only get 10% of their chamber to say they want it on the agenda. Important to note that is not 10% of the chamber supporting the legislation, just that they agree that it should be heard on the floor and debated. Following that, there is a time limit for the leader of the chamber to get it on the agenda so they cannot stonewall the desires of a minority position. The threshold is large enough to remove the most fringe elements while at the same time allows those with a minority opinion to be heard and received in a timely manner.

Clause 3 shall read:

The Vice President of the United States — as President of the Senate — may propose legislation that must be added to the schedule and voted on within thirty days.

While it is an odd bit of the Constitution that the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate, there is a reason for this. Remember that we always want to make sure one branch of government should not have complete power over the other and that each is constantly kept in check by the other two. This position of the Vice President is a check by the Executive Branch on the Legislative Branch by making sure the legislature takes into consideration the concerns of the Executives. Much like minority representation in the prior Clause, this one gives executive representation in the law-making process.

Here, let us reiterate that that the Vice President is still a non-voting member and can only act basically as a meeting organizer. The tie-breaking voting power that she currently has will become unnecessary for reasons that will become clear shortly.

Clause 4 shall read:

Any order by the Supreme Court or delegated Federal Court to create new law or modify existing bills and law must be done within the timeframe designated by the Court.

In a separate set of articles, we will return to the Judicial Branch and its rights, responsibility, and limits thereof, but this is a taste of what is to come. Much like the Legislature, nothing in the Constitution has told the Judicial Branch how to function and what it can do. One of the abilities the Judicial Branch has granted itself is the ability to create law via judicial review. While judicial review is important in determining if a law is Constitutional or in violation of another law, it is an overreach by the courts to take on the task of determining what the legislation should have been when the Constitution or law is silent.

As such, a barrier needs to be put in place that stops the Judicial Branch from creating law because that is not their job. However, the courts should have the ability to compel the legislature to create law based upon the discoveries of the court. If the courts find that the law is lacking in a situation or the law as written has flaws, then the courts should have the ability to demand that the law-making body itself revisit and fix this.

Much leeway should be given to the courts in these decisions and in what timeframe they want Congress to correct the issues. Therefore: minority legislators, the executive branch, and the courts would have the ability for bills, laws, and adjustments to be introduced. But at the end of the day, it would still be 100% the responsibility of the Legislative Branch to make the law (and in this case the President to sign off on the updates). This separation of responsibility is critical to removing overreach by any branch and keeping roles completely distinct.

Meanwhile, the courts will need a mechanism to enforce this and other rules, but we’ll return to that in Clause 10. In the meantime, there is more to the process that must be considered before we look at enforcement of said process.

A LEGO® display of the first four female Supreme Court justices on display at the Supreme Court of the United States in January 2020. As of that date, they remain the only women to serve in this role.

Clause 5 shall read:

Any legislation that shall pass through either chamber of Congress must be scheduled and voted on by the other chamber within ten days.

Here we move into the process whereby the leaders nor the majority Party of an individual chamber of Congress cannot stop legislation from moving through the next step. While in Clause 1 we established the responsibility of setting the schedules, here we taper that power further by making it clear that there is a responsibility to call a vote on something that has passed. In this way, this clause will remove the un-Constitutional power that the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate have bestowed upon themselves and level the playing field between each chamber. No matter what, then, a piece of legislation must be heard in the other chamber and voted upon.

One of the tools that Congress uses to stop legislation both as it moves between chambers and even within its own chamber is the process of adding amendments to make it undesirable. This is the next procedural move that must be stopped.

Clause 6 shall read:

All legislation must consist of single clauses directly related to the same subject at hand. Each clause and amendment must be passed separately in its own approval process.

This section has been written in individual clauses, and so, too, must Congress write their bills. Then, it is not voting on a bill in totality if there is just one part that is objectionable. Instead, each part would be open for debate, voting, and sending to the President for signature or veto. As written, this would also give the President line-item veto power since each clause would be presented individually and therefore would require sign-off on each.

At the same time, if there are differences between the House and the Senate, the differences will come through amendments that would move through their own process so as not to stop the individual clause if there are no threshold objections. More important than all of that, though, is the end of pork packages. It is a common practice for Congress to attach some unrelated spending to a bill as a matter of compromise in order to get a particular person’s or group’s vote. More often than not these add-ons have nothing to do with the legislation at hand and everything to do with securing funding for the Representative’s or Senator’s home area and score brownie points with the voters.

If we eliminate the ability to just attach anything as a package deal and make it be voted on individually, then it will simply be on the merits of the item alone. True, the legislators could just make the same type of deals and agree to vote for each other’s items, but at least this way it would be clean and there would be as many checks as possible between the two chambers and the President. Since each clause would be voted on individually, all members could be held accountable for their vote to that single line item. However, in order to do that requires getting every vote on the record.

Clause 7 shall read:

All Representatives and Senators, save for vacancies or physical inability, are required to cast a vote on all legislation presented before that chamber of Congress.

This may seem an odd item, but theoretically a Representative or Senator could just walk out of the room (or never show up to the room in the first place) and not vote on an item. Abstaining (voting “present”) is a tool commonly used to avoid the appearance of taking a stand or getting on the record of exactly where a person or organization aligns. Often this is done in arenas like the United Nations in which a nation does not support some specific resolution but will not vote against it in order to not appear to be taking sides or to appease some opposing party. The standards of the U.N., though, are outside the purview of what is needed for the United States of America.

Within the confines of the United States, our elected officials must be held accountable, and the only way to do that is to have them on the record. This is how the voters in the country get to check on those representing them because there is a definitive record of not just where they stand on a bill in total, but on each clause and adjustment of that bill. It is the official record that can be used for or against an individual that is supposed to be the will of the people they were elected to represent.

The exceptions for not voting should be few and far in between. In the prior section, we have tried to eliminate times of vacancy as much as possible, even if it is with a temporary person. However, it is always possible that among nearly hundreds of people that a vacancy can happen at any time, and that is understandable. That said, the idea of “physical inability” is speaking not of absence but of being in a hospitalized situation. As we will get to shortly, we will need to make sure Congress is always able to vote when necessary. Before that, it is time to severely limit what legislation can even move forward.

Clause 8 shall read:

All legislation must have at minimum sixty-one percent of the vote of all legislators in the chamber in order to pass to the next phase of the bill’s process.

Here is the biggest rub of all. Today, legislation can pass from one chamber to the next and up to the President with a simple majority. As the last twenty years have shown, this means the majority of significant legislation was passed on Party lines. When one Party had control of all chambers of Congress and the President, they were able to get their special interest items through. This includes recent massive items like the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

The Affordable Care Act was pushed through by Democrats with 51% of the House of Representatives, 60% of the Senate, and 53% of Congress in total. The Tax Cuts and Job Act was pushed through by Republicans with 54% of the House of Representatives, 51% of the Senate, and 53% of Congress in total. In other words, both were equally forced through by one side or another simply because of their majority at the time and their control over the White House at that moment. More so, in both cases no member of the other party voted in favor of the other’s legislation. In reality, several Democrats voted against the Affordable Care Act and several Republicans voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Going back to the prior section of trying to limit the powers of one Party and setting procedures that will hopefully limit one from majority control, this clause is the next step in that process. Based upon voting patterns, bare majority should not be enough to move a piece of legislation ahead, especially in a country so evenly split. As has been seen with the Affordable Care Act, once the other Party gets enough control, they work to dismantle that legislation. It is not a stable environment for people, municipalities, companies, the economy, or any other metric.

Poignantly, Congress used to believe they should have certain items that reached a higher level of acceptance. This was especially true in appointments to the Supreme Court where Senate Rules required a “super majority” of 60 votes. However, with stonewalling and no discussions between Parties, this requirement was removed in favor of a simple majority. Lest this be considered an attack on Republicans, Democrats have done or attempted similar measures, so both major Parties have equal blame.

We need to take that choice out of their hands and make sure legislation that has passed already has at least a “super majority” so that it is not just a constant batter-up position. Engraving in the Constitution a 61% requirement for any bill to pass will be closer to getting real legislation into law and limit individual Party power.

Further, the threshold is below the veto override. That remains at 2/3rds (66.66…7%) of the House of Representatives and the Senate, so there is a gap between passing and guaranteeing it become law. Even if the vote was with 67% of the chamber, there is no guarantee that those who voted for it will override a veto as they may respect the President’s wishes or have reservations to begin with. Either way, it would give a tool to make bills more worthy of consideration.

Finally, this shows why the Vice President no longer needs her tie breaking power. Only legislation with 61% is going to pass through to the next part of the process, so if the vote is tied at 50/50, then it has effectively failed.

With all of these clauses in place, all that matters is enforcing them in the strongest terms.

Clause 9 shall read:

Congress shall make no rules or exceptions to circumvent the process of scheduling and conducting a vote.

This one sentence expresses this thought: do not try to create loopholes! The bureaucracy in Congress is self-inflicted, but that does not mean that all of it is without value. These rules were created to bring order to what can be a chaotic process within a large body of people. The problem has been that over time these rules have mutated from helpful elements to weapons of war to make Congress not function in order to push (or suppress) a specific agenda. Here we have a Clause that is ambiguous as well as wide, making all of those rules reviewable under a single criterion: does it stop legislation from flowing naturally? If a rule does not, then there is no worry. If it does, then there must be consequences.

Clause 10 shall read:

Failure to follow the guidelines of Article One, Section Eleven of the Constitution and any future amendments shall be considered Treason of the United States of America. The Vice President of the United States is responsible for enforcement of this clause and bringing forth charges of Treason against individual members of Congress.

Does treason seem a bit harsh? Well, let us look at Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution which is the only point in which Treason is defined:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The next Clause gives Congress the ability to define the punishment for treason, but as you can see treason is very tightly tied to just one thing. By the Constitution, treason is about supporting enemies of the country and... that is it.

At the time the Constitution was written, there was great concern about foreign powers attempting to take over the fledgling nation. These were well grounded fears and during the revolution they experienced such betrayals. Modern estimates put that only about a third of the nation supported separation from England and the creation of a new country, so there were plenty of leftover questions on loyalty. Others were not sure that anything in the Articles of Confederation allowed the founders to even throw that out and start anew (hint: there was not). Meanwhile, as covered when we started this journey, the States were not exactly sold on what the Constitution offered. In other words, there were lots of chances for someone to turn to the other side for support.

Over time, the United States has become a super-power and a beacon for how other nations can function in a representative democracy. Foreign powers do try to influence and impact what happens within the borders of the United States of America and people do fall under the spell of those powers for a variety of reasons. That definition of Treason should remain in place and prosecuted as normal.

What about the enemies within, though? What about putting oneself before the country? What about betraying the principles of the nation and pledges made when accepting office for personal or party gain?

Are these not attacks on the nation? Does not hurting the nation constitute support to enemies by default?

The point of this last Clause is to remove the shield of invincibility that members of the government have. If they do not follow the rules or abuse their positions, what is the consequence? Most of the time it is nothing at all, and at worst it is loss of job when the voters get a chance. As covered previously, most members of Congress get re-elected so the same problems continue generation after generation. There needs to be a real and tangible consequence to trying to abuse the trusted position of a Representative or Senator.

Therefore, the recommendation is to make it treason to try to stop legislation using rules and procedures and underhanded methods. There are succinct responsibilities and functions that the leaders of each chamber and the members within have, and if they refuse to do their duty then they need to be punished. The impudence must end.

In a final check, only the Vice President would be able to accuse a Representative or Senator of Treason based upon breaking Section 11 of the Constitution, giving her oversight power that does not exist today, as well as someone outside of Congress to make sure they follow their own rules. Of course, being accused of treason is not the same as being convicted, and any person thus accused would have the ability to present their case to the courts. But should they be found guilty, then the repercussions become real.

The above piece is a mildly modified excerpt from New & Improved: The United States of America by J.P. Prag, available at booksellers worldwide.

Is there a way to save America and ensure justice and freedom for all? There is… if you are willing to rethink and rebuild the entire Constitution!

Learn more about author J.P. Prag at www.jpprag.com.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Medium.

votingpoliticspoliticianslegislationhow tohistorycontroversiescongress

About the Creator

J.P. Prag

J.P. Prag is the author of "Aestas ¤ The Yellow Balloon", "Compendium of Humanity's End", "254 Days to Impeachment", "Always Divided, Never United", "New & Improved: The United States of America", and more! Learn more at www.jpprag.com.

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