July 21, 2011 12:18PM

Requiring Consensus in Congress

Yesterday Cato hosted a book forum on Joe Gibson’s new book, A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results. The author had a lot of thoughtful ideas, and the event is worth watching (its also a short book, easy read). Several of the book’s proposals move toward getting greater consensus in Congress and more agreement across the parties. Which got me thinking, if you want consensus, why don’t you start by just requiring it. Something like a 300 vote requirement in the House with a 80 vote requirement in the Senate. There’s nothing in our Constitution that requires simple majorities (or 60 for that matter), at least for routine business (yes there are rare exceptions). This would not stop every bad law, far from it, but it would require laws to have more support, with the result that would have more legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Now the biggest problem with this proposal would be that it favors the status quo, as changing the status quo would become far more difficult. The solution is to require every federal program and authority to have a sunset date, something like 5 or at most 7 years. If you can’t get broad consensus to keep a program, then it sunsets and goes away. If the program is much loved, then it should have no problem staying. Worth keeping in mind that the vast majority of bills pass the Senate by unanimous consent, almost in effect requiring 100 votes. So I don’t see either of these changes being that disruptive to the Senate and would likely improve the process in the House.