Category Archives: The Presidency

The National Budget under Direct Democracy

 The so-called “power of the purse,” one among an enumerated few bestowed upon Congress in the Founders’ Constitution, has long since proven, to the surprise no doubt of fewer still, by far the most corrupting. Indeed this indispensable authority to appropriate tax revenue now represents the greatest threat to the future prospects of this nation. Naturally then it also constitutes one of the more challenging powers to tame and to integrate into the faithful service of a national system of direct democracy.

Currently many revenues raised and already appropriated by Congress may yet be blocked by a handful of powerful budget committee chairpersons  — according to whatever criteria might force or stay their hands. But neither these “gatekeepers,” nor even the committees over which they preside, were ever mentioned by the Founders in the Constitution: These were the innovations of subsequent Congresses.

In spite of — or perhaps owing to — these and other congressional innovations,  rare now are any full, year-round budgets appropriated and authorized by the various committees of Congress. Instead, many may pass but one continuing resolution after another in order to ensure the funding of the many agencies, departments and programs of the federal government.

And this proposed direct democracy, at least with respect to the federal budget, is itself a form of national continuing resolution.

All other departments, agencies, offices and courts of law not superseded or abrogated by this Constitution shall retain the same allotted percentage of public revenues, powers of regulation, oversight and enforcement, and restrictions under law as established prior to ratification, until a proposition alternative for reform of that government body or office, introduced by the People or by the principal officer of the government body or office in question, certified in at least ninety-five percent of precincts subject to its oversight and authority, receives an aggregate of fifty-one percent of votes among said precincts.

(from Article 1, Section 4)

As the priorities of the voting public naturally shift over time, this budgetary “frozen pie chart” might be altered in any national electoral initiative — altered perhaps concurrently with the election of a presidential candidate as a new form of electoral mandate akin to today’s party platform: Thus, with the election of a given candidate the defense segment of the budget, which now stands near 24% of the whole, might be reduced to the 22% health care is now allotted and vice versa.

If these important percentages stood unaltered longer than many might like, the actual revenues raised and spent, as ever, would depend upon existing fees and tax rates. The proposed constitution provides for its own major source of revenue akin to the abolished income tax. (see The Immoral Income Tax and Direct Democracy) A property usage fee, specifically, would serve as a progressive form of revenue generator that, unlike the income tax, neither discourages small business enterprise nor encourages mass resource exploitation and blind urban sprawl.

Some might believe that budgetary appropriations ought to be much more fluid, subject to constant voter correction. But these governmental expenditures are not mere figures on a page: resources are committed and lives changed. Were daily polls to decide the fate of previously authorized, let alone disbursed, government expenditures, the ensuing waste of resources would no doubt prove worse than what prevails today.

Yet the national budget need not be balanced from year to year, so long as debts arising from unforeseeable exigencies were borne by current citizens rather than passed on to future generations. Thus, a constitutional amendment explicitly precludes the transfer of debt:

Amendment X – No law enacted by electoral initiative or otherwise shall establish a debt, project or fiscal program where the financing thereof would obligate future citizens to the financial commitments of current voters. Appropriations shall be drawn from revenues collected within one year of their appropriation through floating debt and the collection of these fees and revenues only:

-Usage fees levied upon persons whose activities degrade or monopolize public property;
-Usage fees levied upon persons enjoying exclusive use of land, in proportion to its acreage and the volume, mass and scarcity of natural resources therein;
-Usage fees levied upon foreign governments for involvement of United States military personnel, equipment or weaponry in operations outside the territory of the United States, at the request of said governments, which would otherwise be the responsibility of any sovereign nation to itself;
-Misusage fees levied upon persons whose activities, whether intentional or negligent, damage public property;
-Misusage fees levied upon persons whose activities damage the private property of another person, or impede its exclusive use by barring lawful access to it, or operation of it; physically altering it or its value; or otherwise converting or making improbable its peaceable, lawful, exclusive enjoyment; thereby necessitating the intervention of law enforcement or courts of law;
-Misusage fees levied upon persons who assume unnecessary risks or file frivolous complaints that require emergency public services or courts of law;
-Sales of forfeited, seized property;
-Sales of goods processed or manufactured by state-confined workers; or revenues from the contracting-out of their services;
-Sales of government property to allies of the United States, upon a two-thirds majority vote among the Governors and a unanimous vote between the President and the Cabinet—or the Defense Cabinet, in the case of military property;
-Duties, imposts and excises;
-Safety-inspection and handling charges;
-Any fiscal-program income deduction annually re-authorized by electoral initiative.

All fees shall reflect the actual duration and costs of use or misuse, so that collections in anticipation of use may necessitate reimbursement.

No law enacted by precinct electoral initiative shall institute or increase an appropriation from revenues derived in part or in full from another precinct, unless with a fifty-one percent consenting vote within the latter precinct, or unless authorized by this Constitution; nor withhold or disburse revenues lawfully collected for and due to a city, county or state government, or the federal government.

While congressional committees and their distinguished chairs would no longer hold the national purse strings, outlays of revenues would yet require close supervision and control. That critical supervisory role would be granted to the extra-congressional organizations already established under the current system — e.g. the SEC, IRS, FTC — and duly reauthorized by the incoming Cabinet, a process shepherded by the new Attorney General — now an elected official running on the same ticket with the President and the Vice President, third in succession to the highest office. (see The Presidency, the Vice Presidency and Direct Democracy)

Amendment XI – The power to appropriate revenues and the exercise of oversight, investigative and regulatory authority formerly delegated to the United States Congress by the original Constitution, where not previously delegated by the former, shall be delegated by the Attorney General to, and in turn by, the appropriate executive appointees, whose official acts may be halted by the President, the Attorney General, or by a three-fifths majority of the Governors, when deemed unlawful, wasteful or predominantly political in nature…

In most cases, the People themselves surely lack the time and the enduring interest to study the issues concerned, to weigh their competing priorities, and to stipulate the requirements for each prospective budgetary appropriation. The proliferation of the internet, doubtless, will broaden the capacity of the voting public to determine even the minutiae of appropriations democratically; but until such time as a secure, reliable system were designed, approved, and disseminated, these responsibilities ought remain with dedicated professionals. 

The President, insofar as the budget were concerned, would be only a coequal to the Attorney General and the Governors of the States and would retain the veto power only over those legislative measures enacted as regulations by the agencies created or reauthorized by an acting Cabinet for that task.

We the People, however, through our electoral initiative process, would inherit the authority not only to enact and to alter existing statutory law; but, in rare instances and with rarer consensuses — to alter the American political system itself.

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The Presidency, the Vice Presidency and Direct Democracy

 . In past presidential cycles a state by state comparison of available electoral votes might have determined the choice of vice presidential running mate; and such running mates would have been expected to deliver in their home states, likely swing states. But such calculations have proven unreliable; and an evaluation of the readiness of a prospective running mate to assume the role of president has now come to the fore.

In reality, even this criterion is a specious one: No specific experience nor any particular quality beyond soundness of judgment is required for almost any elective office. Every situation arises with a unique array of considerations; and every sitting president works with a new Congress, for a transitioning electorate, in a changed and changing world.

President Obama has proven ineffectual not because he lacks any backroom familiarity with the functioning of government nor any grasp of foreign affairs but largely because his judgment is hampered by his arrogant personality. Though he makes clippy speeches that decry racial and class inequalities, his first-term agenda, if one can call it that, was equal parts timid and divisive.

This underlying, millenias-old pretense — that special qualities and unique experiences distinguish only a privileged few for high office — would finally in a direct democracy be put to a much-needed rest. The judgment of Pres. Obama has revealed itself to be no less flawed than any other man’s, his arrogance no better. Such has been the case with most of history’s leaders.

Nevertheless, the direct democracy presented here, a decentralized system, does not contemplate replacing the executive branch or yet the office of the president with any popular-vote-directed administering of affairs. Quite to the contrary: Each presidential candidate would in fact be required to include upon the party ticket a selection for Attorney General as well.

Why?

Our Attorney General even today is intended to be the People’s lawyer, our chief American law enforcement officer, not a counsel for the President. In the proffered direct democracy, where the President may be replaced two years into a four-year term — either by the Vice President, or by the Attorney General — the office of the Attorney General becomes an all but co-equal with, and a very real legal constraint upon, the office and the power of the presidency:

Or the People may, after two years of the existing four-year term, in the summer electoral initiative, replace the current President when, between an option to retain the status quo, an option to remove the President in order that the Vice President may become President, and an option to remove the President in order that the Attorney General may become President, one of the latter two options receives an aggregate of fifty-one percent of votes cast for the office among at least ninety-five percent of the precincts of the United States.

(from Article II: Section 4)

Trained in the letter and the spirit of the law and added to the line of presidential succession, the Attorney General is further directed to transfer the former duties of the Congress to the executive administration and to watch over their stewardship as an equal partner to the President and to the state Governors:

Amendment XI – The power to appropriate revenues and the exercise of oversight, investigative and regulatory authority formerly delegated to the United States Congress by the original Constitution, where not previously delegated by the former, shall be delegated by the Attorney General to, and in turn by, the appropriate executive appointees, whose official acts may be halted by the President, the Attorney General, or by a three-fifths majority of the Governors, when deemed unlawful, wasteful or predominantly political in nature…

Under such a triumvirate system of executive administration, the People retain not only the recourse of replacing any one of their elected or appointed officers but also the benefit of a powerful, accountable representative whose honor and judgment may be weighed prior to the election of the administration. Should a presidential candidate then select for that position a person of questionable integrity, the People could, and likely would, turn their support to the ticket of an opponent.

And if his integrity proved insufficient only after the election, not only are the Governors equally empowered to check the executive administration themselves; but the People may also replace the Attorney General with an individual of their own choosing in the next summer electoral initiative:

Every public official within the United States but the President, either elected or appointed by an elected officer, may be replaced in a summer electoral initiative when, among an option of any precinct-certified candidates who meet all other qualifications for the office of an incumbent, an option to require the immediate replacement of an appointee by the appointer, where applicable, and an option to retain the status quo, one of the two former options receives an aggregate of fifty-one percent of votes cast for said office, among at least ninety-five percent of precincts subject to its oversight and authority. Nor shall the aforementioned appointer during the existing term remove the duly-elected replacement-appointee from office, unless for misconduct therein; though all public officials may be replaced in any electoral initiative when a vacating of their offices for any other reason shall have necessitated a special election.

(from Article I: Section 4)

A Schooling on the Electoral College

 In turbulent years the Founding Fathers rose to prominence, within a nation faltering in its efforts to carry out safe trade and carry forth timely news between the former colonies. Each new state had long since developed unique regional interests and established a monied elite, as well as incubating its own darker provincial prejudices. And in the absence of a solid federal government, no national political parties had yet consolidated so as to represent concerns common to all the states. Not surprisingly, then, the smaller states needed special persuading that entry into a stronger federal system would not cost them the better part of their autonomy, as granted them by the Articles of Confederation.

At issue for the Framers, specifically, was how to convince the smaller and the more agricultural states that their lesser populations would not be routinely outvoted by the larger states, in effect leaving them underrepresented in this new federal system. And though the rule of one man, one vote is surely representative, irrespective of voters’ spatial relation to one another, for the smaller states, and for the sake of the new Union, the constitutional pot would have to be sweetened.

The Founders almost uniformly distrusted the common People at this time, in part due to the very absence of a stronger federal system — the consequences of which were a lack of an established national press and thus an uninformed populace, lack of a public school system, and no broadband.

Hence we have the electoral college, a Frankenstein system born of a Roman relic, a hybrid intended primarily to more equally represent the states in the presidential election by guaranteeing some minimum level of importance to all the states via their 538 electors.

The problem — beyond that of pragmatically pandering to smaller and rural states, affording them more electoral weight than their populations should warrant — is that the establishment of a strong federal government has since given rise to remedies for what then prevented the Founders from entertaining the notion of allowing the People to vote directly for their President.

We now have a somewhat pervasive and obnoxious national press, two hyperpartisan and quite entrenched political parties — and also broadband. The electoral college, furthermore, was designed without taking into account the pernicious influence wrought by a two-party system. In a winner-take-all electoral system, where the voters in each state vote, not for the President, but for their electors, the party of the electors who receive the most votes will carry all of that state’s electoral points, a majority of 270 required to win.

In a more parliamentary political system, where multiple parties were in fair competition for a share of all the electors, this would not pose a problem. But today, in our two-party system, it translates into an insurmountable barrier for third party candidates, who often struggle for a plurality of votes in any state, let alone the eleven or so more populous states necessary to carry the election.

Then there’s that other little problem. The Al Gore problem. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the presidential election all the same. Whatever one’s politics, the resulting Florida farce, the hanging-chad/Supreme Court-injunction parody of a vote count, hardly seems worthy of the Founding Fathers’ genius inspiration.

Finally, we are no longer the uneducated, isolated sodbusters that the Framers took us to be. These United States are no longer pitted, one against the other, like private regional interests; such that we ought jealously guard against the empowerment of the one over the other. And our two-party system no longer serves us at all. And then there is the broadband.

One person, one vote. Anything less is beneath us.