Background on Government Reform
Issues in 2016 election cycle
- Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Feb. 12, 2016, leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
- The Constitution instructs that the president "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... Judges of the supreme Court."
- President Obama nominated Merrick Garland on March 16, 2016, but the Constitution is silent on the timing of the Senate process.
- Republicans prefer to wait until after the election, in the hopes that a Republican presidential victory would mean a more conservative appointment.
- The voter registration issue has been brewing since 2000, and may result in legislation prior to the 2016 election.
Republicans favor “Voter Identification” requirements, on the grounds of ensuring the integrity of the vote.
Democrats respond that individual fraud is extremely rare and has not ever affected an election outcome.
The partisan reason for these stances is that voter identification discourages voting by youth, minorities, and the elderly,
all of whom disproportionately favor Democrats.
- As of 2015, a total of 31 states have active voter identification laws.
In 2013 and 2014, courts struck down voter ID requirements in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arkansas.
Many state with voters identification laws also allow those who cannot afford one to obtain a valid government ID for free.
- HAVA, the Help America Vote Act, passed Congress in 2002, largely as a result of the 2000 presidential election results in Florida. HAVA requires the replacement of outdated voting equipment, and establishes national standards for administering elections. HAVA also created the concept of “provisional ballot”: if a voter is excluded from voting, that voter can cast a ballot on election day anyway, for later determination of eligibility.
Eight states presently offer same-day registration (SDR), allowing any qualified resident of the state to go to the polls or an election official's office on Election Day, register that day, and then vote--ID, IA, ME, MN, MT, NH, WI, WY and DC.
Another two states--CA and CT--have enacted same-day registration but have not yet implemented it.
Two others allow voters to register and cast a vote during the early voting period.
In most other states, voters must register by a deadline prior to Election Day.
The deadline varies by state, with most falling between 10 and 30 days before the election.
The rationale for opposing SDR is the same as for supporting Voter Identification requirements: the theoretical possibility of fraud, with a real underlying reason of suppressing the vote of undesired groups.
In general, the same party split applies to SDR as for Voter ID; but more specifically, outsider factions support SDR while establishment factions oppose it, because outsider factions need new voters more, while establishment factions have all the voters they need.
In partisan terms, that means the Democratic progressives and the Tea Party Republicans support SDR more than their establishment counterparts.
SDR was widely credited with giving Jesse Ventura his upset victory in his Minnesota gubernatorial race.
Executive orders are written by the president without going through Congressional legislation. Many Republicans accuse President Obama of over-using executive orders to bypass Congress, but Obama's use of executive orders is typical. When the presidency changes party, the new president routinely overturns his predecessor's orders, too (which can't be done with Congressional legislation).
President Number of executive orders
Barack Obama 226 (as of early 2016)
George W. Bush 291
Bill Clinton 364
George Bush Sr. 166
Ronald Reagan 381
Obama's opponents complain that Obama has over-used executive orders on issues such as immigration, where Obama stopped enforcing the deportation of children who entered America illegally as minors.
Obama's opponents claim that Obama should go through Congress on issues like that.
However, presidents bypassing Congress is not new to President Obama -- many presidents have bypassed Congress when they thought executive action was important and/or that Congress would act too slowly.
For example, President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves, as an executive order, when it was unlikely that Congress would have even passed such a law.
Campaign Finance Reform
- ‘PAC money’ means donations to political action committees, which is used for issue ads which typically favor one candidate, but do not count in federal spending limits.
- ‘Soft money’ means donations to the national party rather than to a particular candidate ($193 million in the 1998 election, for example).
- ‘Hard money’ is subject to less reform proposals -- it means cash donations to a particular candidate, which must be fully reported to the FEC.
- Individuals may donate a maximum of $1000 to one candidate, but may donate any amount of soft money, and any amount to PACs.
- Candidates who voluntarily limit their campaign spending qualify for federal matching funds of about $100 million.
- Supporting campaign spending limits in 2016 implies opposing Citizens United or replacing McCain-Feingold.
- "Citizens United" refers to a 2010 Supreme Court case which allowed unlimited spending by "'super-PACs" on behalf of any candidate, as long as the TV ads are not coordinated with the campaign itself. Super-PACs dominated the spending in the 2012 presidential primaries and 2014 midterm elections, and will continue to do so in the 2016 elections.
- “Privatization” is a politicized word that means the same thing as term “out-sourcing” in the business world.
- The EPA, for example, is largely “privatized”: most federal environmental work is implemented by private contractors selected through a competitive bidding process.
- The NIH, in another form of “privatization,” provides grants for scientific research and development, also selected through a competitive application process. The EPA and NIH focus on enforcing regulations and overseeing contract and grant completion.
- “Earmark Reform" refers to changing the rules of Congress to restrict “earmarks," which are currently legal and ethical.
- “Earmarks" means line items in legislative bills which allocate specific monetary resources to a specific purpose (or to a specific company), usually in a specific congressional district.
- An example is a highway improvement project in a House member's district, buried in a 1,000-page spending bill.
- Earmarks have become controversial because, in theory, members of Congress could quietly allocate an earmark that would benefit a campaign donor (known as “pork-barrel spending").
- Proposed reforms range from full disclosure (showing every earmark and its originating legislator on a public website) to the Line Item Veto (allowing the President to veto earmarks without vetoing the entire spending bill).
- The term "czar" refers to a powerful presidential appointee who is not confirmed by the Senate. In other words, a "czar" is answerable only to the President, unlike normal Cabinet secretaries and other appointees, who must pass the Senate confirmation process.
- "Czar" is an informal title used by the press and sometimes by the appointee. For example, Elizabeth Warren was known as the "Consumer Czar," but her formal title was "Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
- Czars were popularized by Pres. Clinton and the czar count increased to several dozen under Pres. George W. Bush and Pres. Obama, but the practice goes back to the 1930s.
Balanced Budget Amendment
- The Constitution limits the president to two terms, or a total of 10 years. There are not limits for the US House or the US Senate.
- In March 1998, the Supreme Court let stand term limits for state lawmakers, but previously ruled that establishing such restrictions nationally would require amending the Constitution. Efforts to limit federal Congressional terms died out in early 1997.
- 18 states have laws limiting politicians' terms, and in 1998, more than 200 state legislators were forced to retire.
- The latest push is for term limits for judges. The purpose would be to limit ‘Judicial activism,’ which means establishing new laws from the bench rather than from Congress.
- In 1998, the Senate defeated by one vote a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the Constitution. It would have mandated an end to deficit spending unless 60% of Congress voted to override.
- State budget balancing requirements typically only apply to the operating budget (ongoing expenses), but not to capital expenditures (one-time investments). The proposed BBA restricts both.
- The ‘Line Item Veto’ would be another Constitutional Amendment intended to reduce budget growth, by allowing the President to selectively veto particular spending items.
- ‘Corporate welfare’ restrictions are often addressed in the context of a BBA or Line Item Veto. However, most federal corporate subsidies are embedded in the tax code rather than in the spending side of the budget.
- ‘Unfunded Mandates’ mean that the federal government requires states to undertake activities without providing funding for them.
- ‘Block Grants’ mean that the federal government gives states funds to spend as each state sees fit.
- ‘Devolution’ means the federal government should close departments and agencies, transfer functions to the states, or otherwise yield control over policy which is now federally controlled.
The philosophy behind devolving power to the states is based in the 10th Amendment. It is currently applied primarily to welfare reform, but ‘block grants’ are proposed to devolve power to the states in many areas.
- ‘Deregulation’ in general means the federal government should have less control over private businesses.
Conservatives push for deregulation because they believe the market works more efficiently than the government.
Liberals push for government regulation when they perceive a problem that can’t or won’t get addressed by non-government methods.
Deregulation worked well with telephone deregulation and airline deregulation in the 1980s, resulting in greater consumer choice and lower prices.
Deregulation applied to banks and insurance companies in the 1990s are generally blamed for the economic crisis beginning in 2008.
- ‘Reinvention’ has been the official policy of the federal government since 1993. The basic concepts are:
- Government should steer rather than row (provide a framework for non-government action rather than operate institutions).
- Government should focus on outcomes (desired results) and needs of customers (service recipients), rather than inputs (dollars and jobs) and needs of bureaucracies (rules).
- Government should decentralize and address problems from the lowest level of government possible;
- Public agencies should compete with private agencies, and should adopt a market orientation;
- Government which work betters also costs less.
Amendment X to the US Constitution
- The GOP proposed a plan in May 2000, that small states would have primaries first, progressing to larger states over a four-month primary season.
- An older proposal is a system of regional primaries with a rotating right to go first.
- A constitutional amendment would be required to modify the Electoral College, but not to modify the primaries; many states in 2012 switched their GOP primaries from 'Winner-take-all' to 'Proportional'.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. (1791)