CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AND EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT by James L. Sundquist

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AND EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Constitution, whether perceived as cast in bronze or as putty to be molded to the cracks of circumstance, has certainly focused more attention upon itself than any similar charter in world history, save the Ten Commandments. Sundquist, a senior fellow emeritus at Brookings, here examines how the Constitution could be improved by reform amendments. The origin of his belief that reform is necessary for effective government is the central problem of executive and legislative stalemate in our government (Burns' Deadlock of Democracy). The tension is between the conservatives, who see this deadlock as the genius of our founders (it ensures that no faddish reforms will be bulldozed through the system), and the liberals who see the separation of powers as a barrier to governmental action and, thus, progress (though the crux of the matter may well be whether such action is, indeed, progress). Sundquist comes down on the side of the latter, arguing that the Constitution is not immutable. The problem of reform, he argues, is that it runs the risk of upsetting the balance of power between the branches. So he opts for constructing a combination of amendments that ""would grant roughly equal accretions of power to both branches."" What he suggests are the following: 1) A team ticket--a slate of President, Vice-President, Senate and House candidates--which would combat the tendency for Congresses alien to the President's philosophy; 2) four-year House and eight-year Senate terms, which might promote more unselfish, statesmanlike legislation; 3) special elections to reconstitute failed governments, such as Nixon's in 1974; 4) linking of branches by enabling dual office-holding, as in parliamentary states; 5) a limited item veto for the President; 6) a legislative veto; 7) a war powers amendment, as opposed to the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which can be too easily flouted; 8) approval of treaties by both houses of Congress; and 9) the establishment of a national referendum system to break deadlocks on specific issues. In analyzing these possibilities and others, he has done a fine job of citing all of the ramifications of changes, as well as recognizing the practical obstacles to implementation. As we approach the 1987 bi-centenary of this crusty old document, we can expect to see much written in this vein, but Sundquist has already set a strongly-argued agenda for such discourse.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0815782292
Publisher: Brookings Institution