• Cancel re-election. One of the biggest reasons Congress gives away its power to the executive branch is that it’s politically expedient for both parties to avoid the decisions that come from the work of legislating. Lawmakers are obsessed with staying in office, and one of the easiest ways to keep getting re-elected is by avoiding hard decisions. We ought to propose a constitutional amendment to limit every senator to one term, but we should double it from six years to 12. Senators who don’t have to worry about short-term popularity can work instead on long-term challenges.
If that’s a bridge too far, at least ban fundraising while the Senate is in session in Washington. It’s an everyday experience to sit down at a $2,000-a-plate lunch fundraiser and then run over to make committee votes. Lobbying is protected by the First Amendment, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of senators when we’ve got work to do.
• Repeal the 17th Amendment. Ratified in 1912, it replaced the appointment of senators by state legislatures with direct election. Different states bring different solutions to the table, and that ought to be reflected in the Senate’s national debate. The old saying used to be that all politics is local, but today—thanks to the internet, 24/7 cable news and a cottage industry dedicated to political addiction—politics is polarized and national. That would change if state legislatures had direct control over who serves in the Senate.
• Sunset everything. For decades Pennsylvania Avenue has been a one-way street, as authority flowed from Congress to the executive branch. When the unelected bureaucracy gets power, it doesn’t let go. We ought to end that by having the Senate create a “super committee” dedicated to reviewing all such delegations of power over the past 80 years and then proposing legislation to sunset the authority of entire bureaucracies on a rolling basis. Does, say, the Health and Human Services Department ever answer for its aggressive regulatory lawmaking? Of course not. Sunset all its authority in 12 months and watch lawmakers start to make actual laws.