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Leave Your Political Party…
The Two-Party Problem
The Solution in Independent Political Power
In Brief: Any majority party has too much power, and a single minority party has little choice but to employ damaging tactics to protect its agenda. The solution is to have three or more viable political parties, along with independent representatives—with no one party holding majority power.
Click to read about The Principle of Minority Power
Congress has been dominated by two parties for almost all of our history, and that situation has created countless difficulties in governance. The damage done in recent years by party conflict is perhaps greater than at other times in history. Anyone bothering to read these words is surely all too familiar with the deep cultural and political divisions we experience today, and how those divisions exacerbate the long-standing problems of two-party government.
It Begins with Rules & Committees
The first business of a newly elected congress (every two years), in both the House and Senate is to organize—to elect leadership and establish committees and their chairpeople. House and Senate rules govern this process, and everything is based on one party holding a majority.
If there is no majority, new rules will have to be agreed, by a majority, before leadership and committees can be organized. In the House of Representatives, new rules are written prior to the beginning of each congress, and are adopted by a majority. Senate rules are standing, and can be changed by a majority.
When every member of the new House or Senate is in a minority, these unavoidable new rules will have to protect all the parties and independent members. No Republican, no Democrat, and no other member will support rules that don't protect his or her standing.
Majority Party Congressional Committees:
Congressional business passes through committees before it comes to the full House or Senate for action. Committees are crucially important, and powerful almost without limit. And the majority party controls committees absolutely—they choose the chairperson of every committee, and they have a majority of members on each committee. So, they have the power, in every committee, to win every procedural vote, and every vote on substance. The minority party is left virtually impotent.
But if there is no majority—if every member of one or both of the houses is in a minority, the only solution that will be acceptable to any member will be one in which power is shared—where committee chair positions, and committee majorities will be apportioned among the parties. There will be an ugly fight, but under the full glare of public scrutiny, some version of genuinely shared power will be inevitable.
House and Senate Majorities
In the full House and full Senate, a similar situation exists. The majority party selects the leadership of each house, by definition has a majority of the members, and therefore has the power to win all procedural votes, except those that require a super-majority—two-thirds or three fourths of the members.
But when every member is in a minority, that absolute power lock will be gone. In the House, where a Speaker must be elected, the party that ultimately wins that coveted position will likely have to yield power in other significant ways in order to prevail.
When the Majority holds Congress and the Presidency:
Under current rules, when one party holds the presidency and controls both houses of Congress, the system of checks and balances envisioned in the Constitution breaks down—the majority party rules virtually without constraint. This situation is not what the framers of the Constitution intended for our nation. They deliberately avoided establishing parties in that document, and some of them hoped to avoid parties altogether in the new government. It didn't work out so well; the first parties formed almost before the constitutional ink was dry.
But if we can break majority dominance of our legislative bodies, we can restore our government to the egalitarian system the founders intended.
The Role of Constituencies:
Another part of the problem has to do with constituencies. In the current two-party system, constituencies choose parties. In other words, if some group wants to achieve political action, its usual method is to pick one of the parties, begin participating in that party at state and local levels, and begin contributing money and time to the party. Then, they demand that party's support for their agenda. If they're big enough and rich enough, they get it. The two-party system is a zero-sum game. If one party loses a constituency, the other wins it. When the power of the two parties is nearly evenly divided, they can't afford to say no.
More complex solutions may be possible, but the simplest is to prevent any party from holding a majority of the seats in the two houses of Congress. The only way that works is for there to be three or more parties, and some independent Senators and Representatives, and for each of the parties to hold less than fifty percent of the seats. In that situation, no committee can be formed without agreement of at least two of the parties. No rule or procedural decision can be imposed without two parties. And no bill can pass unless it receives votes from members of at least two of the parties. Consensus becomes necessary for all action.
If there are more than two parties, the possibility exists, though it certainly isn't guaranteed, that parties can choose their constituencies. If a party doesn't want to be controlled by a special interest group, they can just say no—especially when they know they can't win a majority, even with the support of that group.
If no party has a majority, all parties have power enough to be legitimate participants in governance—but no party has the power to dominate the others. The potential for positive change in the governance of our nation is profound.
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