Over the last few weeks, the House of Representatives has been mocked, scoffed, and chided over its leadership elections. From the House Freedom Caucus demanding reforms and decentralization of policymaking to establishment Republicans hoping to keep the peace and make deals with the Senate, both sides of the Republican civil war want the same thing — to matter again.
Over the last century — and especially with the rise of mass media — the presidency has become a force of its own, often ignoring Congress and preferring work-arounds to the legislative process rather than finding a negotiated compromise on Capitol Hill. The president’s position as a nationally elected voice in our politics trumps Congress and allows the office’s power to grow, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
While conservatives are right to ask for reforms from the new Speaker, they’re missing an opportunity to help rebalance the power of Washington. It’s time for the Speaker of the House to truly go national by making the next leader resign from his or her congressional district and become centered in Washington as a balance to the White House.
Here are six reasons why this is the best reform we can have:
- It’s Constitutional. The Constitution merely states that the “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker.” Every time there’s a new Speaker vote we see hypothetical candidates mentioned who have never served in the House, or who aren’t current members. If conservatives want to change the status quo, this reform can be done within the realm of the Constitution.
- It’s time for the imperial presidency to have a Prime Minister. Since the Founding, the “People’s House” has served as the voice of the people, and that has allowed it to be the voice of reform. From the Wilmot Proviso, which first challenged slavery’s expansion in the nineteenth century, to the Contract with America, when the House has focused on change, it’s used its authority as a the closest representation of the American people to get it done. Having a Speaker who’s focused solely on national politics and based in Washington will allow Congress to harness the power of the people against an increasingly all-powerful White House.
- It’s fair to the new Speaker’s voters. Under the current system, the voters of the Speaker’s district have a part-time representative. While Paul Ryan was happy to become Vice President merely a few years ago, his reluctance to take the top job in the House because he would no longer see his family or spend time in Wisconsin has only magnified how the dual duty of the Speaker of the House means his constituents will see him less often.
- It gives states a stronger voice. Every mid-term election, especially when Democrats are out of power, we see articles decrying gerrymandering. What never gets mentioned is that gerrymandering is the last vestige of state legislatures shaping the federal government in any real way. Forcing a national figure to contend with state legislatures over redistricting can empower their influence, even if it’s only once a decade.
- A national figure forced to represent everyone. Every presidential election revolves around a handful of states. By making the Speaker of the House a completely national office, Americans would finally have a voice in Washington that is forced to listen to regional interests. Rather than worrying about swing states every four years, Americans could finally have a public official that is forced to acknowledge regional issues and whose job is on the line every two years. While the Speaker would not be directly voted on, he or she would be forced to campaign in a truly national fashion.
- It empowers the Senate to be a broker. In explaining our democracy, George Washington once told Thomas Jefferson that the Founders had created the Senate to “cool” House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea. Over the last few years, and especially under the leadership of Harry Reid, the Senate has lost its esteem as the greatest deliberative body in the world. By creating a second national figure in the Speaker of the House, the Senate could once again serve as a broker between the House and the President, allowing for negotiated compromise and much needed reforms in Washington.