Our view: Constitution promotes gridlock; more powerful presidency may help


At 230 years old, the U.S. Constitution has certainly served this nation very well.

Our Founding Fathers, motivated by a deep desire to prevent tyranny, crafted a document for the ages that set in motion a grand experiment unique to the human experience.

But in 2018, in a time of governmental gridlock, societal complexity and rapid technological innovation, can we really expect dusty old parchment written on by a group of wealthy slave owners to provide all the answers not only for today but in the years and decades ahead?

Probably not.

Let’s focus on the gridlock.

Just a few days ago, Steve Bannon, former top adviser to President Donald Trump, predicted Trump would shut down the government this fall if he can’t get the billions he wants from Congress to build a wall at the Mexican border.

Trump is a Republican president, mind you, at a time when both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans.

Yet, he still cannot get his wall funding and is left with only threats and bluster to try to get action.

What about meaningful health care reform?

Doesn’t seem to be a chance at this point.

Ditto for gun-control measures, immigration reform and a whole host of other topics.

We do concede the Republicans managed to get significant tax legislation passed. But that’s one major achievement in about 17 months in power in Washington.

This state of inaction has us wondering if it’s time to modify our form of government in a very fundamental way.

A compelling blueprint for a more responsive, active governing style is laid out in a 2016 book called “Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency.”

Prominent political scientists William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe revere the Constitution, but make some excellent points about how it ill-suits us today by relying on Congress to enact change. A Congress, that is, largely controlled by special interests and narrow concerns tied to members’ home districts.

Howell and Moe argue this has been the case even before the age of heated partisanship.

Congress “is not wired to solve national problems in the national interest,” the authors write. “It is wired to allow hundreds of parochial legislators to promote their own political welfare through special-interest politics. And that is what they typically do.”

Hence, government that cannot effect change even when society demands it.

The fix? Howell and Moe propose fast-track legislative authority for the president.

The presidency, they believe, is “wired” differently due to the office’s unique status in our system and the officeholder’s concerns about legacy and national, not local, interests. In other words, like in the most successful companies, the CEO is the guy who sets the big picture and can get things moving.

Under fast track, presidents would propose legislation, and Congress would give a yes or no vote. There would be no chance for lawmakers to add pork or lobbyists to request amendments.

And if Congress didn’t vote within a set amount of time, the proposal would become law.

Radical, we know. And the Constitution would have to be amended, a lengthy process.

But we believe it’s at least time to give ideas like this a hard look and start planting the seeds if only for the sake of future generations.

Congress’ approval ratings have not topped even 30 percent in almost a decade, according to Gallup polling.

If someone in power took up this cause, we believe a bulk of the public would be highly receptive.

— Times Leader