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Discuss parliamentary and presidential government.

All of your readings discuss the differences between parliamentary and presidential government.

The first step is for you to read about two national decision-making institutions.

You must first get good idea of the advantages and disadvantages of these two systems (similar to your understanding the advantages and disadvantages of Single Member District Plurality (SMDP) election systems and Proportional Representation (PR) election systems.

As we learned last week and will continue to review this week, there are competing goals of democracies. One goal is representativeness and inclusiveness. Do we include all the major groups in government? Do we give everyone a voice? Do we make sure each group has a fair share of power in proportion to their numbers in society, or to their votes?

Another goal of democracy is efficiency and governability. Efficiency in government helps voters to identify a clear choice and to obtain alternation in government. Governability is the capacity of government to make and carry out decisions. It is facilitated by coherent (especially one-party) majorities.

There are trade-offs between inclusiveness and efficiency. The more political parties/voices are included in government the harder it is for government to achieve clear decisions. On the other hand, if one party has a majority in parliament, or control of the presidency and Congress, there may be more efficiency but less inclusiveness.

I’d like you to think about the current political situation in the United States. We have a majoritarian system (SMDP) combined with a presidential institutional system. There is a great deal of deadlock in our national institutions today. The executive branch and Congress have not been able to decide on a host of problems, which include the climate change, the budget, energy, the debt, immigration, education and transportation.

Can we blame this on our presidential system? Would it be useful if we made some changes to this system that would move use towards a parliamentary system?

Let’s call a Constitution Convention. At this convention you are charged with reforming the presidential system in the United States. Below are some suggested changes to the U.S. presidential system. You can also review your readings for more on this issue.

1) We now vote for a presidential candidate and a vice-presidential candidate as an inseparable team. We could provide that in presidential election years, voters in each congressional district would be required to vote for a trio of candidates, as a team, for President, Vice President and the House of Representatives. This would tie the political fortunes of the party's presidential and congressional candidates to one another, and provide some incentive for sticking together after they are elected.

2) Such a proposal could be combined with a four-year term for members of the House of Representatives. This would tie the presidential and congressional candidates even more closely, and has the added virtue of providing members with greater protection against the pressures of single-issue political groups.

3) Another idea is to permit or require the President to select 50 percent of his Cabinet from among the members of his party in the Senate and House, who would retain their seats while serving in the Cabinet. This would be only a minor infringement on the constitutional principle of separation of powers, but it would require a change in Article I, Section 6, which provides that "no person holding any office under the United States shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office." It would tend to increase the intimacy between the executive and the legislature, and add to their sense of collective responsibility.

4) A fourth suggestion is to provide the President with the power, to be exercised not more than once in his term, to dissolve Congress and call for new congressional elections. This is the power now vested in the President under the French Constitution. It would provide the opportunity that does not now exist to break an executive-legislative impasse, and to let the public decide whether it wishes to elect Senators and Congressmen who will pass the President's overall program.

5) There could be a single six-year presidential term (The French Constitution provides a seven-year term for the President, but permits reelection.) Limiting each President to one six-year term would enhance the objectivity and public acceptance of the measures he urges in the national interest.

A. The President, Vice President, Senators and Congressmen would all be elected for simultaneous six-year terms.

B. Presidents would be allowed to serve only one full six-year term. If a mid-term presidential election is called, the incumbent would be eligible to run and, if reelected, to serve the balance of his six-year term.

How can these proposals be evaluated? How can better proposals be devised?

Your task this week is to evaluate the U.S. presidential system and compare it to the parliamentary system.

All the suggested changes listed above would bring the U.S. closer to a parliamentary system (review the important elements of a parliamentary system).

Your question once again is as follows:

If you were a delegate to a U.S. Constitutional Convention whose task was to devise a system that improved the current institutional system, what type of changes would you suggest. Try to persuade us that your reform is a good one based on some value that you think is important. You may also believe that no change is needed. If so, justify your position.

 

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