Nichols outlines reform plan for U.S. Congress
by DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Nov 15, 2013 | 716 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nichols
Nichols
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Lee University students listened as Dr. David Nichols outlined his “modest proposal” for Congressional reform from a constitutional approach at a special lecture Thursday night.

He challenged the audience to look at the separation of powers from the Founding Fathers’ viewpoint.

What if they were on to something, Nichols asked.

“The creation of three co-equal branches exercising different kinds of power — I know that doesn’t sound like a radical suggestion, it probably sounds fairly commonplace,” Nichols said. “But, in fact it is, because it is very different than this notion that this (current) power struggle … is only about who has it and who doesn’t, and that’s it.”

According to Nichols, Congress attempts to put forth its power in ways it is not institutionally equipped to handle. The legislative branch’s primary power and focus should remain in lawmaking, he said. He suggested that activity is not the main prerogative of many congressmen.

Ultimately the “smaller is larger” philosophy was suggested for Congress.

“Try to do less. One of the reasons Congress can’t do everything they are trying to do is because they are doing more than is humanly possible,” Nichols said. “It is impossible to maintain control, if you try to deal with every aspect of people’s lives.”

Nichols continued, “Congress should be more selective in the problems they try to tackle and the ways they choose to tackle them.”

The “modest proposal” presented consisted of several suggestions:

n Focus more on the types of laws being made.

“Laws are supposed to be general rules that apply to everyone,” Nichols said. “… Increasingly Congress passes laws that are not general rules, but they are fairly specific rules about how [specific groups are affected]. Who benefits? Who doesn’t benefit? Who gets what?”

He suggested passing laws that affect the population as a whole.

n Congress has made a mistake in thinking it should be more like the executive branch. He cited foreign policy as a key area where work is most effectively completed by the president. Congress’ place is to have an impact through the appropriation process and the ratification of treaties, he asserted.

Nichols said many members of Congress believe their main function is oversight. They create broad policies and check to ensure the executive branch follows suit. Congress then believes members of the executive branch can be kept in check with the threat of a policy redesign.

“I think this goes back to a notion of parliamentary government,” Nichols said. “Members of Congress think they are part of a parliament and that their committees, or ... subcommittees, are sort of like cabinets off of the departments that are going to oversee the actual operations.”

He maintained Congress is not set up to handle a continuous minute, detailed overview.

n Fix the budget process.

Congress should pass a general budget earlier in its session, followed by the individual appropriations. Nichols does not want to see a budget coming out of Congress where either everything is passed or nothing at all. He said Congress does not do its job by working in specifics like those listed in an all-or-nothing recommendation.

Nichols also suggested changing Congress’ schedule to an academic calendar where nine months are spent in Washington and three among constituents. He also advocates creating stronger committees instead of having the ultra-narrow and decentralized power of the subcommittees.

Nichols ended his presentation with a question-and-answer session from the audience.

Inset Quote:

“Try to do less. One of the reasons Congress can’t do everything they are trying to do is because they are doing more than is humanly possible. It is impossible to maintain control, if you try to deal with every aspect of people’s lives.” — David Nichols