With the government in shut down, precisely everyone in America has some idea or another of how to "fix" Congress.
I will bring CansecoCare to Washington and fix this crap if I have to. #yeswecanseco— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) October 1, 2013
Some of these ideas are think pieces framed as suggestions — like The New Republic's analysis of the role of "partisanship," as an oppositional force to the influence of special interests and money among legislators. Others, like a former Nirvana bassist's plan to redo the system of determining congressional districts, have been percolating for awhile as a multi-use suggestion for congressional disfunction in general. And of course, there's the idea that all America needs is more leaderly leading in order to lead us out of a shutdown. Here are some of the others:
John Boehner could transform into a bipartisan House speaker hero.
What if John Boehner stopped being nice to all the House Republicans and started getting real with the Democratic minority? This suggestion, from The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin and Zachary A. Goldfarb, acknowledges that it's a far-fetched scenario. But still, it's a great prompt for fan fiction. They write:
But that could all change if [Boehner] were just to decide to say to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “Let’s enter a grand coalition. Democrats will vote for me for speaker as long as Republicans hold a majority. And we’ll do a budget deal that raises a little bit of tax revenue and reforms entitlements. We’ll overhaul the tax code for individuals and businesses. We’ll pass immigration reform and support the infrastructure spending that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions want.”
Boehner, with those words, would transform into the Best Speaker Ever, by their estimation. "They’ll rename the Capitol Dome the 'Boehner Dome,'" the Post wistfully sighs. Thankfully, the writers have already done the work of explaining to us why this won't happen, basically because neither party in the fantasy would ever, ever, agree to do it. Case in point: Boehner's spokesperson told the Post: "this is so asinine the Washington Post should be embarrassed it wasted anyone's time with it.”
Congress needs to feed itself humble pie.
This idea should feel familiar. It argues that the main problem in Congress is the legislators' constant campaigning for re-election. If legislators had term limits, along with restrictions on outside contributions and other financial incentives, then Congress would basically fix itself.
The common refrain here is "serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.":
How to fix Congress in two steps. 1. Pay $24k a year/$500 a week. 2. Impose a two term limit. No monetary incentive or lifers. #weedemout— JC Grayum (@jcgrayum) October 1, 2013
There are a number of variations on this theme, including one multi-point plan focusing on removing congressional retirement benefits. That plan, rather than going after lobbying and fundraising, is more focused on making Congress pass policies that apply to them as well as to the rest of the American public. Alternately, Letsfreecongress.org is dedicated to distributing the balance of political donations to every American, by giving each individual $100 per election cycle for political contributions.
The influence of lobbying and fundraising on the actual legislative work is a big, important issue. But the solutions seen here involve convincing Congress to pass laws limiting the power and financial gain of its members. Similar to the Boehner transformation idea, it might work on paper, but it involves the starting point of a different congressional reality.
Get business to help stage a House coup
Instead of getting Congress to fix itself, this idea, from New York's Jonathan Chait, is based on the premise that moderate Republicans, along with the backing of the business community, could stage a coup against Boehner over the speaker position. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing the Democratic solution to end a shutdown — pass a clean CR, and lift the debt ceiling, without conditions. But it's not organizing against the Republicans in the House, in part because "the business community does not want to hand control of the House back to Nancy Pelosi." Chait suggests that business could throw enough money behind "vulnerable" i.e., moderate, Republicans, in order to sway them to abandon ship, with the promise of the next House Speaker being a moderate member of the party:
There is actually a fairly wide-ranging agenda that commands the support of Obama and a majority of both chambers of Congress, but that has been blocked by the Republican legislative cartel: a long-term budget compromise, lifting sequestration, patching up infrastructure, and immigration reform. Luckily, that agenda also appeals to the business types who would be needed to instigate this coup.
Chait acknowledges that "this sounds unlikely, and it is." But, he adds, "it's not impossible." Whether it would actually work or not, the idea is catching on. President Obama himself is mulling it over: on Wednesday, Obama gave an interview to CNBC. "This time I think Wall Street should be concerned," Obama said, arguing that the shutdown will soon "impact on our economy and their bottom lines, their employees and their shareholders." What's less clear is how such a backing would allow the House to take the most direct course of action possible to end the shutdown in the short term: by bringing up and passing a "clean" CR currently sitting in the Senate. That vote can only happen if Boehner, or a designee of his, decides to do it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.