Bob Kerrey, that smart, pleasant-but-cheeky guy that Republicans say is an East Coast liberal, has presented some relatively good ideas -- one of which would put party politics somewhere back behind the welfare of the nation. Sure, that would mean changing the Constitution of the United States, a cheeky idea, but when you read it, Kerrey’s proposal is not all that radical.
The Constitution allows Congress to organize itself anyway it chooses in Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2. And, somewhere back in history, Congress chose to let the majority party (the one that has the most representatives there) control the agenda.
Congress agreed to let the majority leaders of the House and Senate set the schedule of the floor -- determining when debates are held and, in effect, when votes are taken. And, the members of the majority party who are in office the longest have seniority, and they become the chairpersons of the committees.
If a party doesn't want a bill to advance they can "bury it in committee." For instance, staunch Republicans currently don't want a postal reform bill, even though there is one written, so the bill is currently buried in a House committee. Same goes with the Farm Bill.
Yes, these days, the parties mainly argue and fight while the national debt skyrockets, the gulf widens between rich and poor, war continues to drift in Afghanistan, unemployment soars, energy prices climb and for tens of millions, good health care is more of a campaign issue than it is a reality.
Our Congressional representatives are fixing little of national importance, and for that, they blame the other party.
Kerrey’s proposed Constitutional amendment is named for George Norris, a smart, pleasant and cheeky guy himself, who organized the non-partisan Nebraska Legislature back in the late 1930s.
Norris was once a U.S. Senator. One time he got in a fist fight during a Senate debate. But Norris evidently tired of fights. When he retired from national politics, he personally ran a petition drive to create the Unicameral. He came back to Nebraska to put the Unicameral on the ballot, persuading people to change the state constitution.
The wording of Kerrey's proposed (and aptly-named) Norris amendment is simple. (See the first line, especially.)
“Congress shall write rules so as to elect its leaders and organize itself in a non-partisan fashion. Members shall be limited to 12 years of consecutive service and shall be permitted to enact legislation limiting the amount of money that can be spent by themselves or outside groups on Congressional campaigns.”
That’s right, the amendment also sets term limits in the Senate. About time. Fresh faces are good faces in Congress. And, it gives Congress the power to limit campaign spending, something many of us would sorely like.
If these simple 45 words become a part of our Constitution, holy cow, what a difference it could make.
“I promise you that Nebraskans will see more solutions and fewer slogans, more problem solving and fewer created problems,” Kerrey said.
Kerrey also cited James Madison, a founding father who warned of “warring factions” that can paralyze a government – much like Republicans and Democrats of today.
In writing our Constitution, Madison and other founding fathers looked at failed governments of history, including democracies, and aimed to do better with the United States. The principles of a Republic – including the guarantees of individual and state's rights – were installed in our Constitution to prevent “warring factions” from constantly doing battle and tearing our country apart with vile, bitter, destructive infighting.
Madison foresaw that one faction might gain a voting majority and do everything their way, oppressing even a big minority. That oppression would motivate the minority to do what they could to gain a slight majority and then have it their way.
Every four years, Republicans and Democrats split the popular vote down the middle. Presidential elections are incredibly close, with an all-out campaign to win the White House and majority in Congress and blame-games that last all the way from one election to another.
Kerrey can see all that, and more. He is cheeky in several ways, also proposing specific reforms to Social Security, Medicare and the national budget, talking about what our nation needs to do, even during the campaign. Imagine that. I like to listen to him, even if the Republican opposition says he's a no-good liberal, because the Norris proposal is a breath of fresh air.