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Does it matter who wins?

August 2, 2016

If he wins, would Congress allow Trump to govern, or spend all of its time opposing him?

In an election year that many can only describe as bizarre, voters are currently estimated to be as much as 20% undecided about who to vote for or more to the point, even whether to vote at all.

With no more than half of the total Republican congressional membership (and some say as few as one-third) and none of the Democrats in his corner, even winning the election may not bring the changes that Trump and his supporters say they want.

The days when the GOP was praying for any Republican in the White House seem to be gone.

Voters like Landon say it really isn’t about who wins the race.

“The President is usually just the party front man, or I guess now, front person. The parties rule the country, not the President, and they will make sure that anybody who opposes the power of the party gets steamrolled.”

The political lifers.

Presidents come and go with monotonous regularity, since they can only serve a maximum elected term of eight years.

If you thought that only Supreme Court justices serve for life, you are wrong.

Members of Congress can and do live their entire adult lives and die without ever having to leave  the halls of Congress.

For instance John Conyers (D-Texas) had served 51 years, 202 days as of July 5, 2016. He is followed by Charles Rangel, (D-New York) 45 years 202 days, Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa) 41 years, 202 days, etc, etc.

According to a chart on Wikipedia, as of July 5 this year, a total of 104 people both living and either dead or retired have served from 36 to 59 years.

Eleven currently serving House or Senate lifers have served more than 39 years. Even Harry Reid (D-NV), the man Republicans love to hate, was on track to pass 30 years (serving 1987-2016) until he announced he was retiring this year. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was first elected in 1984 and just announced he is expecting to run again in 2020.

People in both houses of Congress don’t get overly exercised over one little measly president. Their motto might be  “this president too shall pass.”

Except this year. This year it’s all about hard right against hard left. The current GOP nominee is more than a bit too far toward the center for the hard right.

Given that neither Mitch McConnell nor Paul Ryan are particularly happy about the people’s choice, it’s unlikely that any Republican will have to worry about any lasting injury from either donor or leadership arm twisting.

Paradoxically, the person most likely to unite Washington Republicans is Hillary Clinton.

Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would take genuine delight in trying to foil her at every turn, as they have President Obama.

True, nothing much would get done or if it did it would be by executive order, but we’re used to that by now, aren’t we?

Not to mention that if she did win a few rounds, they could use that to keep being re-elected.

Remember the excuse up to now of  “if only we had a Republican president”, followed closely by “if only we had a Republican majority in the Senate and House?”

That suggests that for there to be real change, a lot more than the face in the Oval Office has to change with much greater regularity.

Are there options?

Sure. The Constitution even has a mechanism to fix it. It’s called Article Five.

Changing the number of terms in office can happen with a congressional amendment to Article One, sections Two and Three of  the Constitution that would institute term limits, but given the stakes, any hope of Congress passing that on its own is virtually nonexistent.

Come on, if you had a job for life, would you vote to lay yourself off?

Also under Article Five, two thirds of the states could vote for a constitutional convention to add an amendment, but that avenue has never worked and given the national apathy of the voters, likely never will. It also takes slightly longer than forever.

There is another way.

If states could vote individually to limit how many terms candidates could represent their state, the solution might be back in the hands of the people to whom this really matters.

Often the shtick is that nothing changes because no one opposes the incumbents. Maybe if they knew they weren’t running against a 30-year incumbent with the backing of the party money men, more people might actually throw their hats in the ring.

Also worth mentioning is that each state could decide for itself how long was too long, instead of having the change imposed by Washington. Maybe California is happy with unrestricted terms, while Texas might decide 12 years is plenty, and so on.

Could fixing the system really be that simple?

Alas, no. This isn’t a new idea. It has been tried before.

With eight states succeeding in receiving voter support for state-based term limits via referendum votes from 1990-1994, the issue finally made it to the Supreme Court in 1995.

In U.S. Term Limits vs. Thornton 514 U.S. 779 (1995) SCOTUS voted 5-4 to deny states the right to impose term limits on their Federal representatives. The decision reflected the view of the majority that setting term limits for state representatives was a Federal power.

It’s worth reading the dissent, as it sheds light on that question of the powers of the States vis-à-vis the Federal government as stated in Article 10 of the Bill of Rights.

In the dissent Justice Thomas seems to make the argument that while the Constitution sets the length of each elected term, it does not address the question of the number of terms and therefore that right is left to the states as a reserved power.

What’s different now?

That decision was rendered pre-social media and the age of near-instant petition drives. In 2016, the general public is  a lot more aware of how they are affected by  the flaws in the system.

Aside from any legislation, the 2016 winner will definitely influence the Supreme Court for decades to come.

With the Court currently short one judge, effecting change could hinge on whether Trump or Clinton succeeds in November, making that alone the best reason to care about the election.

Tackling the problem of term limits on the Federal level is daunting, but state by state it’s possibly doable.

For those that say that it would mean no president could count on a voting bloc… the problem with that is what exactly?

Isn’t Congress supposed to be independent of the executive branch?

Imagine what would happen if Congress had to actually consider legislation on its own merits instead of by which donors support it.

From → op-ed

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