This year, the politics of the possible seems more like politics of the impossible. But as a practical Republican and stubborn optimist — not an easy feat in the current climate — I figure a little wishful thinking can’t hurt.
To be clear, I’m not some old-fashioned RINO fantasizing here. My premise is that our two-party system was designed for reasonable negotiation and compromise, and to move past today’s dysfunctional stalemate we need to redefine that fundamental concept, even on the most basic issues.
So, with that in mind, here are some seven pragmatic (and perhaps imperfect) ideas that could greatly benefit our government and the American people.
No. 7: Electoral College
Although the Electoral College isn’t perfect, it’s far better than depending solely on the popular vote. The fact is, there are roughly 10 swing states in a national election; those states vary from decade to decade but they’re still the key to winning it all. What if the big states that have 20 or more electoral votes were allocated proportionally to the popular vote? These “anchor states” would now be in play with the smaller states still being winner-take-all. Of course, this would require a constitutional amendment — a heavy lift these days, considering that Congress can barely agree what time it is.
No. 6: Primaries
Every state shall have its primary on the same spring day and election day should either become a national holiday or take place on a weekend. The same goes with the general election to give every American a chance to vote without having to worry about missing work. The main problem with the current primary system is that low turnout gives extremists, whether on the right or left, too much control. As a result, many of the candidates they choose are not electable in the general election. If we had a national primary day, turnout would be higher and people would be more engaged with the process.
No. 5: Passing a budget
Unless Congress passes a budget by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, its members’ pay will be suspended for every day beyond that deadline until the budget’s adoption. This wouldn’t apply to their blameless staff, whom Democrats and Republicans are going to need for passage of any budget. But currently, Congress doesn’t have any skin in the game — it just spends everybody else’s money and there are no ramifications or accountability.
No. 4: Term limits
The President of the United States and all 50 governors should be allowed to serve as many terms as they want, but cannot be elected to more than two consecutive terms. You don’t want people staying in power for too long, but if someone has been out of office, he or she should be able to come back. Successful incumbents rarely need to worry about re-election.
No. 3: Campaign finance
Regardless of how functional our system is, in the end, Democrats want full disclosure of campaign donations and Republicans want no limits. So, I say, “Give them both what they want!” For the Dems, if someone wants to support a candidate, every American should have the right to know about it. For the GOP, let’s lift all existing donation limits — but every dollar must be tracked on the internet because, to many Americans, the anonymity of some of these large donors is more worrisome than how much they’re giving.
No. 2: Marijuana reclassification
The Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, placing it in a category with heroin and LSD. Because of this, the medical and scientific communities face financial and legal obstacles in securing grants to study marijuana. There is bipartisan legislation proposed in the House to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 3 substance, defined as drugs with moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, such as Tylenol with codeine and testosterone. No matter how the parties and individual politicians stand on federal legalization, reclassification would help fund scientific study.
No. 1: Climate change
We need a 20- to 25-year transition plan for our energy needs to sustain us until we’re maximizing renewable energy sources. The main component of this should be a revenue-neutral carbon tax. It’s really a consumption tax, so you’re paying for every unit of CO2 that you put into the atmosphere based on the energy you’re buying. To help sell this and ensure transparency, Congress could repeal the federal gas tax in favor of a single, set carbon tax. Alternative energy already employs more people than the entire fossil fuel extraction industry and we shouldn’t underestimate the millions of jobs it can create.
Some of these ideas may seem a bit quixotic, but I’m a realist who values pragmatism over partisanship. My hope is that things will begin to change in Washington as citizens respond this November (and beyond) to our current gridlock and lack of sensible legislation. While the nation continues to suffer from absence of rational, effective, forward-thinking governing, we must demand incremental progress. It’s time to vote for candidates of either party who will work together to ensure that the fix is in.