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Governance experts: Shutdown crisis another sign the federal system is broken

Tuesday - 10/1/2013, 5:51am  ET

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WASHINGTON - Governance experts say it's no wonder our government is shutdown: Congress is mired in gridlock, budgets aren't passed on time and the president cannot get his nominations to high-ranking posts promptly approved.

The federal government is out of date, broken and needs to be fixed, according to governance experts at Brookings Institution and Harvard Law School.

"Maybe we really do need to rethink whether we're well-served by a Constitution drafted 225 years ago," says Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas professor of government, who is teaching this semester at Harvard Law School.

If Levinson had his druthers, he would call a constitutional convention to re- examine the merits of the U.S. Constitution.

"Increasingly, I would move to a much more parliamentary system," Levinson says. "It would look like Canada, it would look like England, it would look like Germany."

Levinson would upend the rights of the minority party in the U.S. Senate to ensure that majority parties are more likely to carry out their agenda.

"We have become very, very far indeed from majority rule," he says.

The presidency wouldn't escape major changes either, Levinson says.

"It would be a very good idea if Congress could, by let's say a two-thirds vote, fire a president mid-term if Congress has really, fundamentally lost confidence in the president's judgment," Levinson says.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow in Governance Studies William Galston says things aren't working as they should.

"Changes are definitely needed," Galston says.

He says many factors have contributed to legislative gridlock and the crisis atmosphere that seems to reign on Capitol Hill.

"But aging political institutions that haven't been updated to meet the new challenges of our time represent one of the most important factors leading to the situation that nobody's very happy with," Galston says.

Maybe it's not the individuals on Capitol Hill who are to blame, he says.

"Good people are trapped in a bad system right now," Galston says.

"I think members of the House of Representatives face an impossible situation from the first day they are elected. As soon as they get to Washington, their party leaders sit them down and say, 'you have to start running for re-election right now,'" Galston says.

Galston says if he could wave a magic wand to get one Constitutional amendment adopted it would be to replace two-year House terms with four-year House terms, synchronized to presidential elections.

"That would produce a larger electorate for House elections….and it would also mean that the president would be more likely to come into office with working majorities in both the House and Senate," he says.

Another change Galston would recommend would be to require the president to meet regularly on Capitol Hill.

"Go up to the Hill for a dialogue, a nationally televised dialogue, once a month, either with the president's own party or with the opposition party."

Galston says he believes such regular meetings could go a long way toward building relationships between Congress and the White House.

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