Category Archives: National

For July 24: Legislative Abdication

To what extent has the US House of Representatives and Senate abdicated its constitutional responsibilities in the last 50 years? Some obvious examples are declaration of war powers and budget but there are more subtle legislative abdications.

What are possible explanations of this phenomenon and what are some possible mechanisms for “reconstitution” of these responsibilities?

To what extent has the executive and judicial branch assumed the void?  For instance, recent administrations  have expanded executive orders and made questionable recess appointments.  In some cases the court has redefined what might have been a legislative prerogative as in the health care “tax.”  In other cases, like recess appointments, the court has ruled against the executive over-reach while leaving the definition of “recess” ambiguous.

Yet the legislative branch continuously declines to assert its prerogative to legislate in a way which would reclaim it’s authority. (In this case the Congress might have itself defined “recess” legislatively.)  There are other examples where Congress has neglected opportunities to reassert  its power in relation to the other two branches.

For July 17: Voting in the US (and Maine?)

Next Monday, we plan to discuss a variety of topics and current events having to do with the US voting system. Possible sub-topics include:

  • OK, so the Russians tried to “hack” our election. What happened, and what can be done to safeguard the integrity of the system?
  • Every ten years, there’s a scramble to gerrymander congressional districts. While some of the most egregious cases are being resisted by the courts, there must be a better way. What is it and how could it be implemented (assuming the Dems and Reps wouldn’t be big fans of a more neutral system)?
  • Maine’s voters have approved a ranked choice voting system, which will presumably be implemented over time as constitutional issues are resolved. Is this a “better way” to tally votes, and should it be adopted by other states?
  • What other safeguards are appropriate or necessary to ensure that our elections are free and fair?

See you next week!

For July 10: Federal vs. State vs. Local

There’s been a lot of discussion in Maine (and Blue Hill) about “local sovereignty.” The proponents have argued that local residents are better positioned than Washington (or Augusta) legislators and bureaucrats to form sensible judgments about, for example, the safety of locally produced food. (Keeping in mind that there are also Federal and Maine regulations governing the same.)

So, the question for next week’s discussion is: Which activities should be provided by (or regulated by):

  • The Federal government
  • The State governments
  • Local governments

Rather than enumerating the myriad services and activities to be regulated, of course, it may be more fruitful to think more abstractly about what common characteristics might cause a given activity to fall into one of the three (or four, if we want to consider County government as well) buckets.

Among the core issues to consider are:

  • Which entity(ies) should provide/regulate education?
  • Health care?
  • Social programs (for the needy, for the elderly)?
  • National defense?
  • Food safety?
  • Criminal law enforcement?

So, brush up on your Federalist Papers and be ready to go on Monday. If you need help getting started, here’s a link to Wikipedia on Federalism in the United States.