Restoring Democracy, Rebuilding Trust
Only 17% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job; fewer believe members of Congress are doing their jobs with high levels of honesty and ethical standards. The Environmental Protection Agency, Food & Drug Administration, and Veterans Administration all have approval ratings that are underwater.
The net approval rating of the federal government is negative 19%.
Our leaders seem more interested in petty, partisan squabbles than they are in passing legislation that impacts the lives of millions of Americans – it’s no wonder that trust in our government is at an all-time low. While they posture and launch attacks on each other, our infrastructure is crumbling, the student debt crisis is destroying the lives of an entire generation, mass shootings continue to plague the United States, and automation continues to put more and more Americans out of work. Life expectancy is going down while income inequality is going up.
Our institutions are failing us, and it’s leading to the dissolution of communal bonds. This must change, or the country will continue to crumble.
This change has to start from the top.
As President, I will prioritize changing the way our government works. It’s foolish to say that the government should be run like a business, but there are helpful lessons learned in the business world that can apply to the nation. There are historical periods of bipartisanship that we can learn from. We can learn from states that have undertaken structural reforms intended to help government better serve the people. If we’re bold enough to consider and adapt even a fraction of these changes, we can take a significant step in restoring trust in our federal government.
Standing on the hallowed ground in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Lincoln reminded us of the important work we must all do, what we must dedicate ourselves towards in honor of those who have fallen for this nation, and to prevent this great country from perishing from this earth. Each generation – each American – must do everything in their power to show that a nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can not only endure but thrive. In modern times, many of our leaders have forgotten that this government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.
It’s time we reform our democracy to live up to that ideal.
Rebuilding Trust in Our Elections
In order to fix the big problems plaguing this nation, we need a government that’s responsive to the will of Americans. The entire premise of our representative democracy is that our government is comprised of individual representatives, selected by the people, and who implement policies that reflect the values of the people.
Unfortunately, that is not what we have today.
Because of vast infusions of money from special interest groups and the ultra-rich, our system of government has become corrupted. Money clogs the inner workings of our democracy, and lobbyists have more power to change policy than the people do. The richest Americans can buy undue influence and spend untold fortunes to affect elections. Organizations such as the NRA have single-handedly stopped overwhelmingly popular legislation from becoming law.
We need to find ways to drown out the influence that this money has on politics.
And while money in politics is the biggest issue, it’s not the only one. The way we determine our representatives is outdated. While our system is supposed to protect against a tyranny of the majority, it’s currently set up so that a minority of citizens can determine the President, and, in the most extreme situation, a majority in the Senate might represent the vote of only 16% of people (1).
States have innovated the way they finance elections and determine their representatives. It’s high time we adopt these innovations on a federal level. Let’s get the money out of politics and get the people’s will back into DC.
(Note: Voting Rights are an important issue that require their own policy, which will be released at a future time.)
Attacking the Influence of Dark Money in Elections
Corporations and the wealthy have enough advantages without being able to influence every election by putting up millions of dollars and bending the ear of every candidate and officeholder.
In the wake of the Citizens United ruling (and the lesser-known Buckley v. Valeo decision), money has flooded our political system like never before. A handful of wealthy individuals can now raise their voices louder than millions of ordinary Americans put together. The flood of money in politics has led to increased mistrust and disenchantment in our government, and rightly so. Big money in politics is far more likely to support candidates who will protect the interest of the wealthy that elected these candidates in the first place.
Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions and spend it all on political ads to influence elections. Disclosure requirements allow donations to be funneled through nonprofits and social welfare groups until they can’t be traced to their original source – this is Dark Money. Super PAC spending in federal elections more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, and it quintupled from the 2012 election to 2016. In one election alone – Mitch McConnell’s in 2014 – over $11.5 million dollars was spent, with no way to know where it came from. And – no surprise – swing states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina see the largest Dark Money spending (2) (3), undoubtedly seeing their elections influenced by wealthy donors that have no ties to the state itself.
We must return to the essence of democracy – where each person’s vote is heard and treated equally. I will gladly push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and return the American government to its people. We need to end Super PACs, drown out their influence, and stop pretending that corporations have equal rights to people.
As President, I will:
- Support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and Valeo, which were terrible decisions that have made our politics even more polarized.
- Eliminate Super PACs and vessels for corporate intervention in campaigns.
- Appoint judges who don’t believe corporations have the same rights as people.
As we work to overturn Citizens United and get Dark Money out of politics, we need to also implement solutions that will return power to the American people as soon as possible, faster than a constitutional amendment can happen.
To do so, we must make it possible for all Americans to contribute to the candidates of their choice. This will drown out the voices of the few who can spend millions of dollars to influence our politicians.
The simplest way to do this is to provide Americans with vouchers they can donate to political campaigns. Every American should get $100 a year to give to candidates in federal, state, or local races; use it or lose it. These Democracy Dollars would, by the sheer volume of the US population, drown out the influence of mega-donors.
Imagine running for office when every American has $100 Democracy Dollars to give to their favorite candidate. Just 10,000 supporters could mean $1 million for your campaign. Once elected, you could act primarily in the interest of the people you represent instead of appeasing wealthy donors and corporations. Calling rich people for money is soul-crushing. We’d all be better off if politicians only needed to worry about representing the people that elected them.
A similar plan has been used in Seattle to great effect. We can take their program national to move towards publicly funded elections.
As President, I will:
- Provide every American voter with $100 Democracy Dollars for each election cycle, a voucher that they can use to support candidates of their choosing.
- This amounts to $23+ billion nationwide per election, allowing the will of the people to out-fund the $6.5 billion spent on federal races in 2016, $1.6 billion of which was Dark Money (4) (5).
In all of this discussion of elections, it’s important that we visit the structure and purpose of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Yes, this is a bit boring, but the current structure doesn’t allow for proper enforcement against current abuses of the system. If the agency tasked with ensuring fair elections doesn’t work, the American people won’t believe that the elections are fair.
Currently, the FEC is made up of 6 members, no more than 3 of whom are from the same political party. The President typically appoints 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans, recommended by the Congressional leadership. It’s not shocking that this leads to polarization and gridlock. Through meaningful legislation, we need to give the FEC more specific regulations on how Super PACs must effectively disclose where all of its money comes from. The Brennan Center has done great work on developing a plan.
As President, I will:
- Break with tradition and appoint nonpartisan members to the FEC (retired judges, academics, etc), instead of appointing the Congressional leaders’ partisan picks.
- Propose legislation that would limit the FEC to 5 members, with no more than 2 members from one political party. Additionally, the chair will be required to be nonpartisan and will be chosen with the assistance of a blue-ribbon advisory panel. Only if Congress approves of this legislation will I return to the tradition of appointing their partisan picks for the other 4 FEC members.
- Direct the FEC to focus on increasing disclosure requirements, and focusing on unearthing the donor trail, for Super PACs.
Improving the Electoral College
To most Americans, no election looms larger than the presidential race every four years, and no individual member of the government is more associated with the overall direction of the country than the President. When there are questions around the fairness of that election, or the system that determines our President, it undermines trust in the entire federal government.
Recently, the Electoral College has created a sense of bitterness among many Americans because of popular vote wins paired with Electoral College losses. But the Electoral College is an important system that ensures the will of the larger, more populous areas of the country aren’t the only focus of nationwide elections. It’s also enshrined in the Constitution.
Constant calls to change the Electoral College after a popular vote win/Electoral College loss can seem like sour grapes, and the attempt to abolish it would require a constitutional amendment that could be stopped by 13 states.
That is not to say, however, that criticisms of the Electoral College are unfounded. Outside of the popular vote/Electoral College split, it also causes a few “swing” states to be the focus of presidential elections. It depresses voter turnout in states that are securely blue or red. The number of citizens represented by a single elector also varies widely state-by-state, from 719,000 in California to 193,000 in Wyoming (6).
If we’re going to attempt to reform the Electoral College, it would be better to focus on making electors determined on a proportional basis. The method of determining electors isn’t prescribed in the Constitution, and several states already use a different method. While a constitutional amendment might be required to force states to determine their electors proportionally, any individual state could decide to use a proportional method immediately and have the electors better reflect the will of the people of their state. This would make it so that campaigning in every state would make sense because a candidate could swing votes even in a solidly red or blue state.
The framers of our Constitution were methodical in their decision to establish the Electoral College, a major factor of which included balancing the voice of different regions. While I understand the appeal of the popular vote, the reality is that it would require a constitutional amendment that would never pass and it would systematically advantage densely populated areas with big media markets. Also, Democrats trying to abolish the Electoral College could be interpreted as, “We don’t know how to win national elections by the rules of our Constitution so let’s change the rules,” which is a terrible message. Democrats’ inability to win several small rural states might also demonstrate a larger issue of a growing disconnect between the coasts and middle of America, and a need for the party to broaden its focus.
Let’s win elections. Then we can talk.
As President, I will:
- Promote constitutional amendments that would shift the Electoral College to a proportional selection system.
- Win reelection using the current rules of the system.
Ending Partisan Gerrymandering
Partisan gerrymandering has been an issue in our democracy for generations, and it makes people feel like their votes don’t count and government isn’t responsive to them. Both parties have been guilty of drawing maps to benefit their members, lock in majorities, and protect incumbents.
After redistricting, the number of competitive House seats tend to go down (70 in ‘10; 47 in ‘12). It creates lopsided results, where, for example, 57% of the vote can lead to 74% of the state legislature seats (CA in ‘14), or a party that wins 47% of the vote can end up with 3 out of 13 seats (NC currently). In Florida, Democrats won 54% of the state legislature vote, but hold 43 seats to the Republican’s 73 (7) (8).
Gerrymandering undercuts the basis of our representative democracy, and it causes people to believe their vote doesn’t count.
We need to get control of our democracy back in the hands of the people, and we need our politicians to reflect the will of the constituencies they represent. If we don’t remove the politics from the drawing of district maps for voting purposes, we’ll continue to have representative bodies that don’t represent the population and promote the agenda of a smaller and smaller proportion of the population. Only 8 states have independent commissions to draw their district lines; what rational system lets one team decide the rules?
Gerrymandering has led to legislators being more worried about primary challenges from the extremes of their own party rather than appealing to a broad constituency. This in turn has led to increased polarization and dysfunction, and more people tuning out because they don’t feel represented. We should do all we can to ensure all Americans live in fairly drawn districts.
As President, I will:
- Promote the use of the efficiency gap to measure partisan gerrymandering when evaluating and drawing district maps.
- Promote the use of independent redistricting commissions (a nonpartisan, supermajority commission, similar to California’s).
- Appoint Supreme Court justices who support the use of sociological tools such as the efficiency gap to help end partisan gerrymandering.
Improving the Way We Vote (Ranked-Choice Voting)
One of the most common sentiments you hear every election is that most people don’t get to vote for someone they like, but rather are forced to pick between the lesser of two evils.
Why do we accept a system that leads us to feel that we’re voting for the person who is going to do the least bad instead of the most good? Our current voting system, where everyone selects a single preference and then the person with the most votes wins, is widely regarded as one of the worst voting systems for several reasons:
- It’s vulnerable to a spoiler effect, where a third-party candidate can take just enough votes away from a candidate to cause them to lose, even if that candidate would be preferred to the eventual winner.
- It can cause strategic voting, where voters don’t vote for their favorite but rather the person they like who is most likely to win.
- Especially with a party-based primary system, it leads to partisanship, as centrist candidates, despite having wider support, lose out to candidates who appeal to the fringes of each party.
We must move to a ranked-choice voting system, a system that has recently been implemented throughout the country by states from across the political spectrum for various races.
For those who aren’t aware, in ranked-choice voting, each voter ranks their top three candidates, from 1 to 3. After this is complete, every voter’s first choice is tallied. If one candidate received over 50% of the vote, they win the election. If no candidate hit the majority threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Then, everyone who listed that eliminated candidate as their first choice has their second choice considered, a process which continues until someone breaks 50%.
A ranked-choice voting system ensures that the candidate preferred by the majority of people wins. Here, the first round of votes was splits 42-41-17 between Biden, Yang, and Pete. Since no one got to 50%, the last-place candidate (Pete) is removed from consideration, and those voters have their vote transferred to their second-choice candidate. Here, 10% had Yang as their second choice, and 7% had Biden. Adding that 10% to Yang’s total brings his vote count to 51%, and he wins. This makes sense, since more people prefer Yang to Biden.
The benefits of this type of system include:
- Higher turnout. Ranked-choice voting in general elections is associated with a 10-point increase in voter turnout (9).
- Better capturing voter preferences. Since each voter is allowed to express how they feel about more candidates, the outcome tends to reflect the choices of voters better.
- Allows for more moderate candidates. A candidate that has broad, cross-aisle appeal is more likely to win using a ranked-choice voting system since voters can express their preference for a more partisan candidate as well as the more moderate choice.
- Lowers levels of negative campaigning. Since each voter can potentially vote for a candidate as well as their opponent, candidates shy from negative campaigning that would alienate the supporters of other candidates, instead trying to appeal to those voters as their second or third choice.
One reason we sometimes wind up with extreme politicians is that we have a one-round process that does not always reflect people’s true preferences. Ranked-choice voting would help reward candidates who command broad support and would lead to better results. The process matters.
As President, I will:
- Push the DNC to adopt a ranked-choice voting model for all Democratic primaries.
- Work with Congress to adopt ranked-choice voting for all federal elections.
Rebuilding Trust in Our Government
We are facing massive problems, and trust that our government can solve these problems is as low as it’s ever been. Americans don’t even trust that our government wants to solve these problems. The past two elections have been marked by outsiders gaining unheard of popularity in their runs, mainly because people have lost faith in our system of government and were looking to bring in someone who hadn’t been corrupted by decades in DC.
It’s understandable, because we can’t trust those who have created this situation to fix it. Not only do we need to fix the current problems, but we need to put in place safeguards to ensure that these problems don’t happen again. While the election reforms above will help with that, there’s more we can do to rebuild and ensure trust in our federal government.
Rebuilding Trust in the Executive Branch
The American people need to know that the President isn’t setting policy for their own financial benefit. The Office conveys unbelievable power to influence actions of governments and individuals around the world, and it would be very easy for an unprincipled person to get rich from the office.
We need to ensure that there is enough transparency in the federal government for Americans to trust that the decisions being made by the President and senior members of the Administration are solely to advance the best interests of Americans, and not themselves and their family.
As President, I will:
- Divest from all personal investments and business interests, and place all assets in a blind trust.
- Disclose the previous 10 years of my income tax returns.
- Fire anyone in my Administration who accepts money from lobbyists for a personal legal defense fund they’ve established to defend from any wrong-doing, whether while in office or before.
- Work with Congress to pass laws preventing individuals serving in government from accepting money from lobbyists for a personal legal defense fund.
Outside of directly benefiting from their position in government, the federal government has also become a revolving door. Individuals move back and forth between high-paying industry jobs and positions at government agencies that regulate those industries. People can see the influence of corporate America in the legislation being passed, and it causes them to feel like the government is built around defending the interests of the rich, not normal Americans.
The Office of the President is admired throughout American society. However, that respect has been capitalized on by recent presidents for personal gain. Six-digit speaking fees and lucrative board positions fuel the perception that the President may go soft on people that he or she could receive fees from after leaving office.
To combat this, we should raise the salaries of regulators and government workers, but bar anyone serving in these offices from accepting speaking fees or lucrative board positions for personal gain after leaving office, for at least a decade, if not longer.
As President, I will:
- Pledge to accept no speaking fees or board positions for personal gain after leaving office.
- Pass legislation raising the next President’s salary to $4 million but barring them from any speaking fees or board positions for personal gain after leaving office.
- Increase salaries for government officials who operate in a regulatory capacity to much higher levels, but ban them from receiving anything of value in exchange for advocating for a position (lobbying) to members of the federal government.
- Provide an Anti-Corruption Stipend for all members of the Executive Branch after the termination of their employment, to be paid as long as they don’t accept anything of value in exchange for advocating for a position to members of the federal government.
By all accounts, working in the White House is a stressful job. Americans have to trust that those working in the White House are handling the stress of the job well, and are making decisions with a clear mind. Especially the President.
While mental health can be improved, and those who suffer from issues are often productive members of society, staying well requires constant work. Additionally, the information that flows through the White House and the work done there is of utmost importance.
There should be a White House Psychologist group whose job it is to monitor the mental health of employees serving in the executive branch. All those employed – including the President – should undergo regular mental health evaluations, and psychologists should be free to make recommendations as to each individual’s fitness for whatever office they hold.
As President, I will…
- Undergo a mental health screening and release the determination as to my fitness for office to the American people.
- Hire a White House psychologist corps to provide mental health assistance to all employees of the Executive Branch.
- Require all employees of the Executive Branch to undergo regular mental health evaluations.
The Office of the President, and the powers it conveys, are expansive. The Office represents a trust placed in one person by the American people as a whole. That trust needs to be earned every single day, and the efforts of all members of the Executive Branch should be laser-focused on improving the lives of the average American. It’s not appropriate to wield the power of the Office to help allies win their next elections.
As President, I will:
- Work with the Office of Special Counsel to ensure that the efforts of people serving in my Administration are not in violation of the Hatch Act, preventing them from using their official position or resources to engage in certain political activities, by
- ensuring everyone is aware of the limitations placed on them by the Act
- implementing a two-strike rule, and firing anyone who violates the Hatch Act more than once as determined by the OSC (a one-strike policy would be in place for egregious acts).
- working to pass a more stringent enforcement mechanism for Hatch Act violations.
At the same time, everyone serving in government has a duty to ensure that the federal government isn’t abusing its power. Anyone serving in the Executive Branch should feel empowered to bring up any wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. The American people need to know that their public servants are looking out for their interests while serving in the government, and current legislation and enforcement creates a chilling effect for those who witness wrongdoing and want to expose it.
As President, I will:
- Work with the Office of Special Counsel to ensure that whistleblowers are protected in my Administration when they disclose information of wrongdoing within the federal government.
- Ensure that the Espionage Act is interpreted narrowly enough that it isn’t used to silence whistleblowers or journalists who expose wrongdoing by the federal government.
Congressional oversight into the actions of the President is an important check on presidential power. The Constitution was set up to ensure no branch or individual amassed too much power or was above the law, and under our current system, Congress is supposed to serve as the most direct check on the Executive Branch. While other Administrations have tried to stymie investigations into their actions, it’s important to uphold constitutional norms and allow Congress the latitude to do their job to ensure to the American people that the Executive Branch is operating competently, within the law, and with the best interests of Americans in mind.
As President, I will:
- Direct all members of my Administration to comply with subpoenas to testify issued by Congress.
- Limit invocations of executive privilege during any investigation into a criminal matter.
The independence of the Department of Justice and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies is a key aspect of the belief that no American – not even the President – is above the law. It’s also important that the American people trust that investigations are carried out in an impartial and just manner.
Previous Presidents haven’t always shared this view, but it will be the central principle guiding my interactions with any member of the Department of Justice or Federal Law Enforcement members. The Attorney General is the people’s attorney, not the President’s, and owes loyalty to America and the Constitution, not any individual.
As President, I will:
- Limit conversations with my Attorney General and all members of federal law enforcement to conversations about policy initiatives, instead of directing any specific legal actions to be brought against individuals or organizations.
- Refuse to comment publicly on any ongoing investigation, or on the need for an investigation into a specific individual or group.
The federal government, to many, feels like something that’s far away. This is because most of the government is located in a tiny district on one of the coasts that’s very expensive to visit or live in. Also, federal agencies were headquartered in the DC area when communication technology wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today
Agencies that aren’t directly tied to general government activities (e.g., the NIH) should be relocated to different areas throughout the country to provide a boost to local economies and tie the rest of the country to the federal government.
As President, I will:
- Identify federal agencies that can operate outside of the Washington, D.C., area, and work with them to create a plan for relocation throughout the U.S.
“There is no authoritative list of government agencies.” That’s a quote from the first edition of the Administrative Conference of the United States’ Sourcebook.
How can we possibly promise Americans that their government is operating efficiently – not wasting their hard-earned money – when we aren’t even sure the exact scope of the federal bureaucracy?
We need to ensure that our federal government is best set up to serve the people, and we have done a poor job of it. Federal agencies have grown and morphed over the years, until they’ve reached their current status.
Every list of federal agencies has discrepancies from all the others. Independent executive agency lists range from 78 to 137, and Cabinet units range from 174 to 268. Other lists have over 440 agencies within the federal government. Congress and Executive officials have delegated responsibilities to each of these agencies without always taking into account the purview of other departments. This has created a wide area of shared regulatory space, which means not only are resources being wasted as more than one group is tasked with addressing an issue, but sometimes conflicting information or regulations are formulated.
Additionally, expertise is wasted when agencies don’t know the resources available to them through other, complementary agencies. Coordination should be baked into the ethos of these organizations, and cross-agency management should be focused on identifying areas where work can be streamlined and improved.
Finally, these agencies tend to fall into patterns over time, failing to bring in the most talented members of the younger generations or improving the technology they rely on. It’s important that these agencies are equipped to attract and retain the best talent available, and that they have the resources they need to upgrade their systems in a way that maximizes their utility to the American public, as well as their security.
In short, these agencies should be rewarded for streamlining operations within themselves while coordinating with other agencies to work in a consistent and well informed manner, while also optimizing operations, staff, and technology.
As President, I will:
- Create a task force within the OMB to perform an audit of all federal agencies, clearly defining a list of them, their charge, and their list of responsibilities. Hire a management consulting firm to do the same, and have the two reconcile their report to put together a series of recommendations for streamlining the federal bureaucracy.
- Promote cooperation in these agencies by providing incentives for management to work together with other agencies that have shared regulatory space.
- Provide sufficient funding so that each agency can maintain up-to-date, secure technological infrastructure to carry out their work.
- Enhance the recruitment and retention of younger workers by changing hiring guidelines, compensation and reporting structures.
Americans have seen the negative impact of technology on their lives. From automation that is displacing their jobs to smart phones that are causing unknown psychological issues for our children, Americans are worried about the future, and need to be able to trust the government to play a role in ensuring that we’re prosperous and innovative, but also safe. Technology can bring about new levels of prosperity, but it also holds the potential to disrupt our economies, ruin lives throughout several generations, and, if experts such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are to be believed, destroy humanity.
The level of technological fluency that members of our government has shown has created justified fears in the minds of Americans that the government isn’t equipped to create a regulatory system that’s designed to protect them.
Technological innovation shouldn’t be stopped, but it should be monitored and analyzed to make sure we don’t move past a point of no return. This will require cooperation between the government and private industry to ensure that developing technologies can continue to improve our lives without destroying them, making Americans feel safe.
As President, I will:
- Create a new Cabinet-level department – the Department of Technology – to work with private industry and Congressional leaders to monitor technological developments, assess risks, and create new guidance. The new Department would be based in Silicon Valley and would initially be focused on Artificial Intelligence.
Finally, it’s hard for the federal government to build trust with Americans when the most direct interaction they have is something painful: Americans dread the coming of tax season. The specter of needing to figure out the complex rules of the tax code hangs over each of us for the first third of the year, and most of us rush during April to come in under the deadline.
75% of Americans receive refunds. For those Americans, they’ve been (essentially) giving the US Government an interest-free loan through most of the year. They’d be better off having access to that money at the time they earn it. For the other 25% of Americans, needing to find the money to pay their tax balance adds unnecessary stress to their lives.
After taxes are filed, many Americans then spend weeks dreading an audit, hoping that the IRS doesn’t randomly select them. That process itself can add cost to the tax process, as most people don’t have the required expertise to deal with the IRS’s auditors.
This doesn’t have to be the case. The IRS has almost all the information they need to calculate your taxes within a fair degree of accuracy. They can do this automatically, guaranteeing that you hold on to more of your money throughout the year and will never need to spend money on expensive tax-preparation services or audit-protection insurance.
With the pain of filing taxes out of the way, we can change that April date to Revenue Day a federal holiday where we celebrate everything the federal government does for American citizens.
Each American should be able to direct 1% of their taxes to a specific project. During Revenue Day, these projects will be highlighted, showing what, exactly, America’s money was able to accomplish during the previous year. Initial profiles of the next year’s projects will also be announced so people can get excited for them.
As President, I will…
- Instruct the IRS to implement a system whereby any American can opt into a program to have their taxes filed automatically.
- Instruct the IRS to coordinate with the Treasury to prepare a report on federal spending, and send each taxpayer a rundown of the actual amount of their taxes that went to each major spending area (e.g., domestic programs, foreign aid, military, etc), and allow each taxpayer to select a project for 1% of their taxes to go to.
- Increase the budget of the IRS by 50% to ~$17 billion and modernize it with the latest technology. Money spent on the IRS will almost certainly pay for itself many times over via better tax compliance and less wasted time of citizens.
- Declare Tax Day to be Revenue Day, a federal holiday to celebrate all the projects undertaken or completed by the federal government in the previous year, and announcing new projects.
Rebuilding Trust in Congress
Serving in Congress should be a calling, not a career. Anyone running for office should want to get in, bring fresh ideas to the debate, pass legislation that improves the country, and then let someone else come in with their own fresh ideas.
Instead, we have a political class that has entrenched itself in power, remaining there for far too long. We need to get Congress back in the habit of serving the people, not serving their political careers.
A number of elections have seen reelection rates at 98%, with 90% being the norm. Even years where a wave election happens, reelection rates tend to be above 80%. Compare this to earlier elections with much higher turnover rates, such as in 1854 when around a third of all seats changed hands (12).
Around 13% of the House will have served for almost 2 decades in 2020, which pales to the approx. 20% in the Senate. That’s too long a tenure.
With that much time, individuals can amass power that will lead to self-dealing. Being entrenched in a seat, especially with how strong the incumbent advantage is in such a polarized nation with a two-party system, leads to legislators that are less responsive to their constituents. And, finally, power has been shown to literally cause brain damage, eroding certain types of decision-making.
With term limits, members of Congress would get what they went to DC to accomplish done and then go home. It would make room for new leaders with new experiences and fresh ideas. It would make time in Congress about reaching a goal, not reaching retirement after a long career with a good salary at the expense of the public. And it would give legislators a period of time when they didn’t need to constantly fundraise, as their final term wouldn’t hold the option for reelection.
There are some benefits to no term limits. Legislators gain experience over time, and they form coalitions. Short term limits would also entrench the non-legislative bureaucracy.
This is why the best balance would be longer term limits – 12 years for each chamber of Congress. This would allow legislators enough time to build up sufficient experience and relationships to accomplish their goals, and then get them out before they stagnate and start to engage in self-dealing. It would allow the regular infusion of fresh ideas from new members of Congress. And it would ensure that the political class that makes Congress feel like a distant and unresponsive organization wouldn’t be able to develop.
As President, I will:
- Support a constitutional amendment that would limit individuals to serving a maximum of 12 years in each chamber of Congress.
People feel like their government isn’t getting anything done. They’re right, and it’s because of a weird legislative quirk.
The filibuster was created by accident, and it was hardly used for the majority of this country’s history. The modern filibuster was only created in 1917, and it wasn’t until a rules change in the ‘70s that allowed for a silent filibuster that it began to fall into common use, at which point the problem of filibuster abuse quickly grew out of control (13).
Additionally, the use of the filibuster to block nominees was weaponized by Mitch McConnell. In the history of the United States, 68 nominees required cloture, a proxy for the filibuster. McConnell required it for 79 of Obama’s nominees in his first term (14). Since then, both sides have played legislative games with the filibuster, changing it as necessary to suit, in particular, their judicial agenda, with Mitch McConnell once again breaking his own promise to maintain the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. After blocking Merrick Garland – Obama’s appointee and the rightful Justice to replace Antonin Scalia – McConnell changed the rules to get two Trump appointees on the bench.
At this point, it’s the case that any major legislation requires 60 votes to pass. This has stymied the ability of the Senate to get anything done, and it prevents legislation from even being raised, with the knowledge that there’s no way it will ever pass. Additionally, it protects Senators from having to take hard votes, as close bills won’t even be brought up to the floor.
Finally, it’s driven our Senators to only consider legislation that can pass through reconciliation – a process meant to create a simple-majority vote on non-controversial, budgetary considerations. Our government wasn’t meant to be run through the reconciliation process, which puts strict constraints on legislation and ensures that bills are written in non-optimal ways in order to work through it.
At this point in our nation’s history, with historic issues that are quickly coming to crash down on us (like job displacement from automation), we need a flexible government that can get things done. Instead, we have a clogged government that can’t accomplish anything.
In short, because of the structure of the Senate and its current leader – Mitch McConnell – it’s unlikely that we will be able to enact bold solutions without moving from our current, broken system.
As President, I will:
- Get rid of the filibuster or Mitch McConnell (or, preferably, both). Promote an end to the current filibuster system used in the Senate, ending the requirement for a 60-vote cloture motion and replacing it with the traditional need to hold the floor.
- This will promote the actual articulation of an argument against the legislation or appointment opposed.
- Accept a phase-in period so that the Senate that implements the majority requirement isn’t the Senate that first operates under the new rules.
Promises made on the campaign trail, and in town halls, should be trustworthy and verifiable. Most people believe that they are not.
In order to build up trust in the promises made by politicians, and in the answers they give when they answer to their constituents, we need to allow citizens to easily see how the people they elect to represent them are voting, both on final legislation and when it’s in committee. That information is currently spread out, separate from the text of the legislation itself, and committee votes can be even harder to find. By being willing to aggregate this information in one easily searchable website, the federal government can convey that it has nothing to hide.
Not all citizens will avail themselves of the information we provide, but by modeling transparency and showing the American people that their representatives aren’t hiding their votes, we can build trust that campaign promises will turn into votes on legislation.
As President, I will:
- Create a central website where Americans can easily look up all votes taken by members of Congress, whether in committee or on the floor.
The US legislative process is complicated, and the rules governing how bills are passed can seem convoluted from the outside. It frequently leads to byzantine bills that are impossible to interpret for anyone who doesn’t have an advanced degree in law or public policy. The process and difficult language can make it hard for Americans to have faith that the legislation was fully considered, or their representatives spent enough time considering them.
John McCain famously called for a return to regular order in one of his final speeches, in an unbelievably powerful and correct assessment of a way to increase trust in our government. When the Senate is functioning properly and attempting to build consensus, going through the process of committee hearings, consideration of amendments, public hearings with experts, and a floor vote is the best way to ensure that Americans are informed of the process and all legislators have the opportunity to air their arguments and amendments. Coupled with filibuster reform, the Senate can get back to passing the legislation we need to address the massive issues that this country is currently struggling with and end the gridlock that’s preventing us from progressing as a nation.
When the Senate isn’t working in regular order, secret task forces negotiate legislation behind doors without public hearings, experts aren’t relied on, and legislation gets rushed through in an attempt to get votes before people can fully read it.
Which brings us to another problem – legislation that is posted without enough time for it to be fully read, understood, and considered before a vote is called. There needs to be a standard for how long a piece of legislation must be released ahead of being voted on, so that legislators and their staffs have enough time to read through them, present objections, and communicate the issue to their constituents. While a longer period is preferable, it should be at least 72 hours, not counting weekends or holidays.
Once a law has made it through this legislative process, it can stay around well past its intended purpose. Laws passed a century ago are often reinterpreted in a new context to justify an action that is well outside of the intent of the original drafters. And since almost every law benefits someone, lobbyists argue against repeal of unsuccessful bills because of the limited benefit they have to a specific industry. Legislators have little incentive to make the repeal of an obscure bill a major issue, until our complete set of laws takes dozens of volumes to convey. This stifles business, and it makes it confusing for anyone living under US jurisdiction to have an understanding of what’s expected of them under the law.
The US Code needs to be revisited, and outdated/ineffective laws need to be removed.
Additionally, we need to change the way that we pass and measure legislation in this country in order to make sure our legal code is manageable, clear, and effective. In order to do so, we need to start forcing our legislators to create a clear statement of goals, along with measurable metrics in determining whether the legislation has achieved those goals. Additionally, actions can be defined depending on the success of the legislation in achieving these goals, from increasing funding for the initiative to automatically repealing the law.
Finally, the budget process our legislature goes through is bizarre and counterproductive. Because they have such a hard time compromising, they pass temporary, Continue Resolutions (CRs) that fund the government for a limited period of time while they hash out differences. Instead, however, they mostly just kick the can down the road.
In the past decade, the federal government has operated under a continuing resolution for over 1,000 days. This makes it difficult for departments to make long-term plans, it disrupts contracts, and it creates uncertainty for federal employees. It creates problems for our military – Secretary Mattis said that it was greatly impacting troop morale.
If you couldn’t get your job done, do you think your boss would allow you to push a due date for days, weeks, or months at a time? As Congress’s boss, you shouldn’t accept it from them.
The President has to sign these CRs, and the President should use that fact to put pressure on Congress to do their job and pass a budget. Only when the American people can see Congress doing their job can trust start to be rebuilt.
As President, I will:
- Avoid signing any bill that doesn’t go through regular order when possible – to allow extensive time for all legislators from all parties to debate all issues they have with a bill, and to allow ample time for expert testimony.
- Refuse to sign any bill that wasn’t posted in its final form at least 72 hours before the vote on that bill was held, when possible.
- Refuse to sign any bill that doesn’t include a clearly defined set of goals, with measurable performance indicators, and guidelines for what to do should the legislation meet, exceed, or not meet those goals.
- If Congress doesn’t pass a budget, refuse to sign anything other than increasingly short CRs to promote the creation of actual budgets, increasing the efficiency of the federal government.
While Americans recognize the need to come together to solve our biggest problems, they also elect Representative in the House and Senate to watch out for their local interests. They need to be able to trust that their Representatives are looking out for them, as much as for the rest of the country. Those who have constituents that are less affected by a given piece of legislation are often faced with a binary yes/no decision on whether to vote for it. Right now, there’s no allowance for legislators to argue for local benefits to be added to legislation, and thus there’s no local reason to vote for a bill that doesn’t impact their constitutions. We need to allow our representatives to negotiate for local benefits to be added to bills that will offset the negative impacts their constituents would face in an otherwise socially desirable piece of legislation.
As President, I will:
- Advocate for Congress to change its rules to allow for more negotiation for local benefits for a desirable piece of legislation that doesn’t impact the entire US.
It’s hard to trust that the government is representing the interests of all Americans when not all Americans have representation in government.
Washington, DC, has a population larger than two states, and yet it is not considered a state. This deprives residents of equal representation in the federal government, lacking both Representatives and Senators to promote their interests.
And yet, they still pay taxes, truly being an example of taxation without representation.
Puerto Rico has been a part of the United States for over a century, and yet its people are still denied many of the rights of full citizens because it is an unincorporated US territory instead of a full state. Look no further than the aftermath of Hurricane Maria – the devastation on the island, and the US Government’s unwillingness to help it rebuild – to see the impact that lacking representation can have.
We need to provide all Americans with full representation if we want the American people to have faith that all Americans are represented in our federal government.
As President, I will:
- Work with Congress to admit Washington, DC, to the union as a state, with equal representation.
- Take all steps necessary to promote Puerto Rican statehood as an overdue step toward equality, if this is what Puerto Ricans want.
Rebuilding Trust in the Supreme Court
Trust in the judicial branch of government certainly beats out the other two branches, but that’s not saying much. Exceptionally bitter and partisan fights over Merrick Garland and Brett Kavanaugh have done a lot to damage the image of the Court as an apolitical branch of government, and decisions that people disagree with becoming a part of the popular lexicon (such as Citizens United) is leading to an erosion of trust. There are also long-standing precedents, like Roe v. Wade, that could be overturned, which would create a crisis of credibility for the top Court.
Our Founding Fathers intended this third branch of government to be free of political pressures, interpreting and applying the Constitution to the laws passed by Congress in order to ensure that no violations were found.
Today, the Supreme Court is increasingly polarized around political lines, and the selection of a new Justice is a bitter fight that divides the country. The process has become increasingly contentious, and very few Americans believe that the Supreme Court is impartial.
The first step in ensuring that the Supreme Court doesn’t lose the faith of the American people is to establish a clear code of ethics that applies to the Justices. Currently, all inferior courts have a Code of Ethics applied to them, and violations can be litigated. However, as the Supreme Court of the land, there’s no applicable Code that applies to its members.
Congress has put a few requirements on Justices – recusement requirements and financial disclosure requirements – that the Justices have abided by. It’s time that a full Code of Ethics is established, ensuring that people know our Supreme Court Justices are acting ethically.
As President, I will:
- Work with Congress to pass a clear Code of Ethics that applies to the Supreme Court.
Additionally, the stakes involved in the appointment of Supreme Court justices are creating partisan battles that divide our country, create bitter resentment, and allow individuals to delegitimize later decisions with which they disagree.
The stats largely back up that we do have a partisan problem on the Supreme Court. The number of 5-4 decisions on high-profile cases, reflecting the line between Republican-appointed and Democrat-appointed Justices, highlights this. When a new seat opens up, lifetime appointments incentivize finding the youngest, most partisan jurist who can gain confirmation in order to ensure a particular bent on the Court for as long as possible. Current Justices can expect to serve for 40 or more years. For historical context, the average Justice has served for 15 years (15), though Justices appointed since 1970 have served for an average of 26 years (16).
This isn’t the way it was envisioned at the founding of our country, when life expectancy was shorter and Justices would often retire or resign well ahead of their deaths. We need to return some level of sanity and balance to the Supreme Court.
The answer to this is to impose term limits on Justices, and set their terms at regular intervals. Each President should be allowed to appoint two Justices per term served, in their first and third years in office.
As President, I will:
- Propose a constitutional amendment imposing 18-year term limits on Supreme Court Justices, with terms staggered so that there’s one retirement every other year (each President gets 2 appointments).
- Allow for “off-cycle” appointments, having the President “forfeit” their next appointment to maintain parity.
Rebuilding Trust in a Working Federal Government
The American people deserve a government that works. Part of this is the knowledge that all members of the government are working together in order to solve problems. We won’t always agree on the solutions, but we should always work towards a compromise, when possible, to do the best by the American people.
In order to foster bipartisanship, members of each party need to engage with each other. That tone of collegiality and bipartisanship must come from the top.
The President and congressional leadership from both parties should engage with each other at least once a month. The President should reach out to the top members of each party in Congress to arrange for monthly meetings where relationships would develop and the biggest issues facing the American people would be discussed.
As President, I will:
- Create a new tradition, that all Presidents will meet with congressional leadership from both parties on a monthly basis.
Americans have no faith that our government is properly regulating major tech companies, and that lack of faith has been realized in the unbridled consolidation of and power gained by these companies. Quite simply, our legislature can’t be trusted to address the large technological issues that we’ll continue to face in areas such as AI and cyber security.
It’s also impossible to imagine that Congress can provide full oversight over the executive branch, whose Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is staffed extensively, providing guidance and information on important technological developments to the President and other executive-branch staff.
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) provided valuable research to our legislative branch until it was phased out in 1995. Free of the bias of private industry or think tanks, the OTA provided neutral information on the latest technological developments to legislators. Many of these reports, despite being a quarter of a century old, show an amazing prescience on topics that are still relevant to this day. This vital institution needs to be revived, with a budget large enough and rules flexible enough to draw top talent away from the very lucrative private sector, and with the mandate to ensure that our legislators are up to the task of regulating the biggest technological issues of our time.
As President, I will:
- Refuse to sign any budget that doesn’t include the revival of the Office of Technology Assessment and enough funding to ensure it is staffed at sufficient levels to deliver top quality briefings to members of Congress.
- Find ways for the OTA and OSTP to work together to ensure both branches of government have the best information available and Congress can provide proper oversight of the actions of the executive branch.
- Increase the staffing of the OSTP to appropriate levels, similar to those under President Obama (~150).
- Support any changes Congress makes to its compensation structure to ensure that top talent can be attracted to work in the public sector for at least a period of time, including increasing the pay cap above congressional salaries or creating tax breaks for companies that allow employees to defer their employment to work in government for several years.
Pledges – What My Government Will Look Like
If you, the American people, entrust me with the powers of the Executive Branch, I promise you I will spend my time in office fighting for you, your families, and your communities. I promise you I will only appoint members to my Administration who will do the same. Not only that, but I promise to appoint members to my Administration that reflect America itself, including people from all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and normal, working-class Americans who have experience teaching (Education), protecting our national parks and lands (Interior), farming (Agriculture), in science (Energy and EPA), and on and on.
I also believe it’s important that you know what the focus of each of these individuals will be. In order to fulfill that belief, below, please find what I believe to be some of the most important issues each of them will need to focus on during their tenure, from select Independent Agencies to each member of my Cabinet.
As President, I will:
- Appoint leaders to the following Independent Agency who will focus on the listed issues:
- Oversee the public funding of elections
- Drastically increase disclosure efforts on political donations, and money spent to influence elections
- Drastically increase the size and scope of the Bureau in order to ensure that consumers are protected from predatory business practices
- Reverse the ruling on net neutrality, and work towards local loop unbundling
- Come up with an aggressive plan for the federal government to fund 5G development and adoption using domestic technology and manufacturers
- Work with the DoJ on modernizing our antitrust laws to focus on consolidation of power over pricing
- Find ways to combat robocalls
- Investigate loot box practices in video games and their impact on our children
- Ensure workers in all industries are able to unionize, without fear of retribution
- Find ways to make it easier to support unions in so-called right-to-work states, and in the aftermath of Janus
- Promote research and information campaigns on the new generation of nuclear reactors, which provide a safe and green source of renewable energy that must serve a part of any climate change solution that hopes to hit the 2050 target
- Aggressively investigate and provide criminal referrals for all serious violations
- Actively search for loopholes in the rules and investing activities that could lead to the next Subprime Mortgage Crisis, and issue rulings barring those activities
- Provide basic banking services through local post offices
- Appoint leaders to the following Cabinet and key positions who will focus on the listed issues (not exclusively, just primarily):
Secretary of State
- Rebuild our alliances abroad
- Rebuild our diplomatic corp
- Reassure our allies and partners that we will live up to all our commitments
Secretary of the Treasury
- Modernize the IRS so that it automatically collects/files taxes for all Americans.
- Secretary of Defense
- Work to modernize the military budget, and decide what from our legacy arsenal should be cut in order to put resources towards modern problems
- Work to mitigate the destabilizing force of climate change around the world
- Focus on civil rights
- Work with the Antitrust Division to reframe antitrust considerations around competition instead of pricing.
- End federal marijuana prosecutions until full legalization can be passed
Secretary of the Interior
- Regain, retain, and protect all federal lands and resources, expanding them when possible and preventing their development or exploitation
- Work with Native American, Hawaiian, and Alaskan leaders to ensure they have the resources to improve the lives of individuals living within their jurisdiction, and provide the resources and requested assistance they need to investigate any crimes on their land
Secretary of Agriculture
- Improve our farming techniques to be more sustainable and provide higher quality food
- Increase the viability of small, family, and local farms throughout the US
- Secretary of Commerce
- Work with the BEA to expand our economic measurements to include health, life expectancy, and many other human-centered metrics, as defined here
- Work with Congress on revamping our patent and copyright systems to promote innovation
Secretary of Labor
- Create and enforce all workforce safety measures
- Strengthen collective bargaining rights
- Create protections for part-time and gig workers
Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Improve Medicare and Medicaid while working to implement a Medicare For All system
- Fight the opioid crisis
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
- Work to change zoning laws to minimize single-family zoning
- Promote inclusive housing policies
- Expand housing programs to help the younger generation afford their first home
Secretary of Transportation
- Promote electric vehicle infrastructure
- Identify massive infrastructure programs that can upgrade our transportation channels while simultaneously achieving other goals, such as providing broadband internet to rural areas
Secretary of Energy
- Modernize our nuclear arsenal
- Invest heavily in research for renewable energy, including the next generation of nuclear reactors, both fission- and fusion-based
- Drastically increase federal funding of research in all areas through the National Laboratories
Secretary of Education
- Get the student debt crisis under control, both for current borrowers and future students
- Promote alternatives to higher education, such as vocational and apprenticeship programs
- Promote a science-based curriculum
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
- Implement my More Than a Handshake plan to ensure veteran’s are employed, housed, and health, both physically and mentally
Secretary of Homeland Security
- Limit immigration enforcement to stopping human and drug trafficking, and deporting individuals with a criminal history
- Bring the Department’s efforts to combat domestic terrorism in line with their efforts to combat foreign terror
- Expand efforts to secure our election infrastructure
- Work to ensure a smooth transition of FEMA into an independent department
(Newly created) Department of Technology
- Promoting development of a 5G network that is based on technology provided by US firms
- Investing in and regulating AI, and other emerging technologies
- Monitoring, with the CDC, the impact of smart phones, social media, and other emerging technologies on childhood development
Office of Management and Budget
- Identify the responsibilities of all federal agencies, and the overlap, making recommendations on how to streamline operations and increase efficiency
Administrator of the EPA
- Ensure we can hit the target of all-sector carbon neutrality by 2050, through any means
- Ensure every child in this country has clean drinking water
- Vigorously enforce all environmental standards, and hold companies who violate them accountable
Administrator of the Small Business Administration
- American entrepreneurship is at a multi-decade low. With the Freedom Dividend, we will have more entrepreneurs. The Administrator of the SBA will have vast discretion to create a situation where these businesses thrive.