Rick Hasen has a really interesting paper up discussing partisan polarization and the possibility of changing the Constitution to deal with it. (And you should really read Jonathan Bernstein’s response, too.) Hasen starts off by asking whether we should be considering moving toward a more parliamentary style of government. It’s a fair question. We have what looks like a serious mismatch between our parties and our governing institutions. We live in an era of sharply distinct, internally disciplined, programmatic parties with very different visions of how the nation should be run. That’s fine—we have some time-honored institutions, such as elections and majority-rule legislatures, for settling disagreements, even when the disagreements are sharp. But that’s not all we have. Under our constitutional system, we have many rules designed to thwart majority rule and slow down lawmaking. A bicameral legislature and separation of powers, for example, are built into the system, with the explicit purpose of making it harder to pass laws—and over the years we’ve added things like the filibuster and debt ceiling votes that slow things down further. At times when parties are weak, as they were in the mid-20th century, it’s possible for legislators to come together across party lines and work out agreements despite these impediments. But when parties are strong, the minority party has a lot of tools to keep the majority from accomplishing much of anything.
California is a great case study in this. For decades, the state has had an unusual feature: a two-thirds vote requirement for budget passage. It also has the most polarized legislature in the country. On top of that, much of the state’s discretionary spending is dictated by a series of initiatives, placing it beyond the legislators’ control. Finally, like most states, it must balance its budget every year. All of this makes for an explosive cocktail. Any time a recession causes a revenue shortfall, Democrats (usually the majority, but almost never controlling two-thirds of either chamber) seek to make up the gap by raising taxes. Republicans refuse to go along with this plan and demand to slash social services instead. The crisis usually gets resolved when one or two Republicans agree to vote for the Democratic budget (sacrificing their careers in the process) or when legislators figure out how to defer paying the bills without making it look like they’re running a deficit. California looks vaguely governable right now, since Democrats managed to take over two-thirds of both chambers last year, but on the whole, the system is either in a crisis or heading for one just about every year.
Full Article: Should the U.S. Switch to a Parliamentary System?.