A Plan to Renew the Promise of American Life
Summary of All Recommendations
Plank 1. Ensure ballot integrity.
Note: The following Plank 1 recommendations are addressed to the states.
1.1. To safeguard the sanctity of the ballot in federal elections: 1) permit only citizens of the United States to vote, 2) permit no person to vote more than once in an election, 3) require states and localities to keep voter lists cleaned up on a continuous basis, 4) require a valid form of identification for in-person voting, 5) require that absentee and online ballots be notarized or verified in some reasonable way, and 6) join an interstate compact for sharing voter-registration information on a real-time basis.
1.2. To maximize voters’ confidence in election results: 1) eschew voting-by-mail schemes, 2) make same-day registration at least as secure as pre-election registration, 3) make online voting at least as secure as online banking, and 4) permit voters to photograph their completed ballots for future reference.
1.3. To ensure a reasonable simultaneity of voting, restrict early-voting periods to no more than seven calendar days immediately prior to election day. To reduce gaming and coercion, do not allow votes to be changed, once validly cast.
1.4. To encourage higher voter turnout, publish the fact of whether a person has voted in a given election, after the polls have closed, without revealing how he or she voted.
1.5. To strengthen voter satisfaction with election results, and to obviate the need for recounts and runoffs, adopt instant-runoff voting, also known as full preferential voting.
1.6. To recover the benefits for voters of political parties: 1) greatly increase ballot access for third and minor parties, 2) allow only party members (as defined by the party, not the government) to vote on internal party matters, including nominations, 3) encourage parties to employ Utah-style neighborhood caucuses instead of primaries, and 4) abolish open (“cross-over”) and non-partisan (“jungle”) primaries. In doing these things, always strictly enforce the civil rights of all citizens.
1.7. To ensure that voters choose their representatives and not the reverse, take reasonable steps to minimize the evils of gerrymandering, such as the use of independent nonpartisan commissions guided by sensible rules. Do not let judges draw district lines.
1.8. To keep Representatives and Senators dependent on their constituents, eschew proportional representation schemes. Stick with geographic districts.
1.9. To encourage wiser deliberation in lawmaking, and a salutary stability in the law, eschew such Progressive-era “direct democracy” reforms as “initiative, referendum, and recall.” Instead, leave legislative questions to the people’s elected representatives.
1.10. To prevent a few populous states from dominating presidential elections, preserve the Electoral College and eschew the National Popular Vote Compact and similar schemes that would subvert the Founders’ wise and highly successful system.
Note: The following Plank 1 recommendations are addressed to Congress.
1.11. To bring the House of Representatives closer to the people, expand the House slowly over time. Specifically, after the next census expand the House to 500 members. Thereafter, whenever a new state joins the Union, expand the House by at least ten seats, distributing the new seats by population as is done after each census.
1.12. To make Senators and Representatives more productive: 1) compensate them on a per diem rather than a salaried basis, paying them only for days actually worked, and 2) permit them to vote remotely, at reduced pay, from a district office or their state’s capitol building.
1.13. To get “money out of politics,” repeal existing federal campaign-finance laws and leave it to states to regulate campaigns, as the Founders intended, while restoring limits on federal power and dramatically shrinking the size and scope of government—the only sure ways to diminish political corruption.
Plank 2. Restore consent-based citizenship.
2.1. On a prospective basis, restore the Founders’ principle of consent-based, rather than birthplace, citizenship. Do this by executive action or statute, or, as a last resort, by constitutional amendment. Specifically: 1) cease granting automatic U.S. citizenship to the child of a sojourner or unauthorized entrant, regardless of where the child is born, and 2) going forward, grant U.S. citizenship automatically only to the following: i) the natural child of a U.S. citizen, even if born abroad, and ii) the natural child, born on U.S. soil, of a non-citizen who is either (a) a permanent resident alien or (b) serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces.
2.2. End dual citizenship, which should be anathema in a republic. Automatically withdraw U.S. citizenship from any person found to hold foreign citizenship, if the person, after a reasonable grace period, has not voluntarily renounced that citizenship. But do not penalize anyone who voluntarily renounces his U.S. citizenship.
2.3. Reform U.S. immigration laws to secure the borders, protect national security and the public health, and improve the quality of authorized immigration. Specifically: 1) maximize legal immigration by high-skilled workers likely to assimilate, 2) minimize immigration by persons unlikely to assimilate, 3) halt immigration by any class of persons whose presence in large numbers would disturb the nation’s political or economic tranquillity, and 4) stop impressing employers into the service of our immigration agencies.
Plank 3. End judicial usurpation.
3.1. Appoint to the bench only principled originalists with an ample paper trail. No stealth candidates.
3.2. Alter, by legislation or attrition, the number of seats on each federal court, including the Supreme Court, to give principled originalists a majority.
3.3. Diminish the reach of rogue appellate courts by increasing the number of federal circuits.
3.4. Alter the jurisdiction and powers of the federal judiciary to rein in rogue judges, for example, by stripping lower courts of jurisdiction in sensitive areas and eliminating “national” injunctions.
3.5. Limit the damage caused by erroneous judicial rulings, and give courts more opportunities to reverse them, by aggressively employing narrow interpretation and “distinguishing.”
3.6. If the foregoing reforms prove insufficient to end judicial usurpation, restructure the Supreme Court to permanently alter the justices’ incentives. Specifically, amend the U.S. Constitution to provide that henceforth justices of the Supreme Court will be appointed by the states, with each state filling one seat and no justice serving more than, say, twelve years. Have the governor nominate and the state senate confirm or reject, as happens at the federal level now.
Plank 4. Abolish income taxation.
4.1. Tax consumption, not production—goods, not people.
4.2. Abolish all forms of federal income taxation, including personal and corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, wage taxes, gift and estate taxes, and taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains. Do this by statute rather than waiting for a constitutional amendment.
4.3. When repealing the personal income tax, be sure to repeal payroll taxes at the same time, so as not to leave a taproot for the former to reappear. But repealing payroll taxes alone is acceptable, as a first step to complete income-tax abolition.
4.4. Once income taxation has been ended, close the barn door on possible future backsliding by amending the Constitution to specifically and permanently remove Congress’s power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.
Plank 5. Rely on duties and excises.
5.1. In lieu of income taxation, fund the federal government exclusively with duties and excises, with a little help from user fees and land sales. Prefer this approach over such attractive but flawed proposals as a VAT, a Flat Tax, or the FairTax.
Plank 6. Restore sound money.
6.1. Restore constitutional money and thereby return control over the money supply to the American people, and thus ensure economic health and fiscal discipline, by returning the United States to its constitutionally mandated bimetallic system, based on the (silver) dollar as defined in the Constitution and reflected in the Coinage Act of 1792.
6.2. Scrupulously adhere to the Constitution’s five monetary rules: 1) The basic unit is the dollar, a silver coin containing 371.25 grains of pure silver. 2) Only gold or silver coins, or currency backed by the same, are legal tender. 3) No state may issue coins or currency. 4) No one may counterfeit U.S. coins or currency. 5) Fiat money is forbidden.
6.3. Overturn, by statutory and judicial means, the mischievous doctrines of the Legal Tender and Gold Clause Cases, which erroneously confer on the U.S. Government “plenary” economic powers said to be “inherent” in national sovereignty, but which are in fact antithetical both to the constitutional text and to the spirit of free republican government.
6.4. Revise the federal legal-tender statute (31 U.S.C. 5103) to declare: 1) that gold and silver coins and currency, regardless of issuer or denomination, are sufficient for the payment of private debts, and 2) that United States gold and silver coins and currency are sufficient for the payment of public charges, taxes, and dues. Define the term “currency,” for these purposes, as notes readily redeemable in and fully backed by gold or silver coins (specie).
6.5. Revise the so-called gold-clause statute (31 U.S.C. 5118) to restore the enforceability of valid private contracts that require payment in a specific medium, even if that medium is not legal tender.
6.6. Abolish all taxes and penalties on gold and silver coins and 100-percent specie-backed notes, regardless of issuer or denomination, and all taxes on gold and silver bullion.
6.7. Allow any bank, not just a privileged central bank, to issue 100-percent specie-backed notes that may lawfully circulate as currency.
6.8. Supply the public with United States gold and silver coins at the Mint on demand, in exchange for bullion or currency.
6.9. Reestablish dollar-gold convertibility at a stable, nondeflationary price.
6.10. Gently remove from circulation all fiat-money notes issued by or under the authority of the United States government.
6.11. Reestablish a sound, honest coinage. Specifically: 1) mark all United States gold and silver coins to show the coin’s actual precious-metal content, both in terms of weight in troy ounces and purity in parts per thousand, 2) denominate all United States coins and currency in terms of the dollar as that term is used in the federal Constitution and the Coinage Act of 1792, meaning a silver coin containing 371.25 grains of pure or 416 grains of standard silver, 3) except for the copper penny, replace all United States base-metal coins with silver coins, and reinstitute the issuance of gold coins, as set forth in the 1792 Coinage Act, 4) never vary the silver content of the United States dollar and its related fractional coins, since the (silver) dollar is the basic unit of our economic system and its definition can only be changed by constitutional amendment, and 5) from time to time, and only when necessary to ensure the continuous circulation of both gold and silver coins, amend the Coinage Act to adjust the official exchange rate between gold and silver coins or to alter the precious-metal content of gold coins.
Plank 7. Limit debt.
7.1. Establish, by constitutional amendment, an enforceable cap on total federal debt. The amendment should do all of the following: 1) permit no federal spending beyond current receipts, except for amounts borrowed in strict conformity with the amendment, 2) provide that authorization for any borrowing above the debt cap requires the approval of a majority of the state legislatures, 3) enforce the cap with presidential sequesters and impoundments, and 4) punish any breach of the cap with strong, credible penalties for the federal officials responsible for the breach. Good models to draw on in drafting such an amendment include the Do Your Job Amendment and the Compact for America Balanced Budget Amendment.
7.2. If necessary, in order to get around a runaway Congress, originate the debt limitation amendment via the states rather than Congress, that is, by way of an Article V convention. In order to put to rest all concerns about a runaway convention, coordinate the amendment drive by means of a legally binding interstate compact that includes the actual text of the proposed amendment and the rules for a brief plebiscitary convention, whose sole purpose is to vote up or down on that amendment without change.
Plank 8. Freeze peacetime spending.
8.1. Generate routine, modest surpluses by means of an enforceable spending freeze. Devote surpluses first to debt reduction, then to tax relief.
8.2. Establish, by statute, a cap on total federal peacetime outlays, defined initially as a share of GDP and then, after the restoration of sound money, as a specific number of dollars.
8.3. Enforce the statutory outlay cap by means of automatic sequesters and mandatory presidential impoundments of unspent funds.
8.4. Prevent net spending increases by offsetting spending increases (and tax cuts) with spending cuts of equal or greater value.
8.5. Prevent net tax hikes by offsetting tax hikes with tax cuts of equal or greater value. Never “pay for” tax cuts with tax hikes.
8.6. To make federal spending more manageable, convert the form of spending, wherever possible, from permanent to annual (that is, from “mandatory” to “discretionary” appropriations).
8.7. To reduce unproductive friction in the appropriation process, send the president five or six dozen appropriation bills each year instead of the traditional dozen or so.
Plank 9. Devolve unconstitutional spending.
9.1. Review all 2,200 federal departments, agencies, programs, and activities, to determine whether each is constitutionally authorized and best carried out by the federal government, as opposed to the states or private actors.
9.2. Eliminate or devolve every federal department, agency, program, function, and activity that is not constitutional, necessary, affordable, and moral.
9.3. Follow a basic strategy of block-and-devolve: If it cannot be justified, eliminate it. If it cannot be eliminated, devolve it. If it cannot be devolved, block-grant it. If it cannot be block-granted, reform it to make it block-grantable, and then block-grant it. And then, as soon as possible, devolve it.
9.4. Eliminate or devolve to the states all special preferences, welfare, and grants-in-aid, and all income-support programs not associated with federal employment.
9.5. In the special case of joint state-federal programs like Medicaid, where block-granting them may be impeded by state reluctance, then, as a first step, convert such programs into all-federal programs (i.e., relieve states of the financial burden of financing them), in order to get them under control, and then later reform them, to make them block-grantable or devolvable.
9.6. As a first step to facilitate the necessary reform of Social Security and Medicare, and thus to facilitate their eventual, smooth transfer to the states, eliminate the federal payroll tax and fund these programs entirely from general revenues.
9.7. As a matter of principle, make participation in all federal welfare, health insurance, and income-support programs optional for individuals. For example, eliminate the individual mandate penalties in Obamacare and Medicare. In the same spirit, soften the late-enrollment penalties in Medicare Parts B and D. And do not impose such mandates or penalties under other guises.
Plank 10. Shrink the cabinet.
10.1. Reduce the number of cabinet departments from fifteen to no more than, say, eight.
10.2. Reorganize the executive branch to place all federal agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises under a cabinet secretary who reports directly to the president.
Plank 11. Make independent agencies accountable.
11.1. Amend the organic statutes of all executive-branch agencies, including so-called independent agencies, to bring their missions and powers into strict conformity with the Constitution.
11.2. Make the politically appointed leaders of every executive-branch agency, including the chairmen and members of all boards and commissions, ultimately answerable to the president and removable by him at any time without cause.
11.3. Amend the Constitution to provide that a majority of the states may repeal any federal law or regulation.
Plank 12. Sell unneeded federal land.
12.1. Sell all unneeded federal land immediately to the states or the private sector, but take special care to protect national parks and other precious federal lands from human damage and commercial development. Specifically: 1) Lease lands designated as precious to the states under tight federal restrictions and supervision, for a period not to exceed 99 years. 2) During this transitional lease period, propose and submit to the states a constitutional amendment granting Congress a specific power to create and maintain national parks, national forests, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, grasslands, etc., regardless of state boundaries. 3) Include in the amendment a hard cap on the total size of the federal land portfolio (say, a limit of no more than 10 percent of the surface area of the United States and no more than 10 percent of any one state without the consent of that state). 4) At the end of the lease period, if the amendment has not been ratified, presume that the American people trust the states to manage these treasures and sell the aforementioned lands to the states in fee simple.
Plank 13. Grant territories statehood or independence.
13.1. End the era of U.S. colonialism by a date certain. Announce a sunset date for territorial status, after which any remaining permanently inhabited U.S. territory will be declared independent of, and invited to enter into a compact of free association with, the United States. Currently, there are five permanently inhabited U.S. territories: 1) the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 2) the Virgin Islands of the United States, 3) Guam, 4) American Samoa, and 5) the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Stipulate that, prior to the sunset date, each of these territories will be granted U.S. statehood, if the people there formally request statehood, and that any territory that opts for statehood may merge or subdivide with other states or territories as it may prefer, with the consent of Congress and of the other states or territories concerned. Soon after the sunset date, fold any remaining territory or waters not granted statehood or independence into the nearest U.S. state.
13.2. Grant statehood to the District of Columbia by way of a constitutional amendment, leaving a small area for the permanent seat of government, inside the boundaries of which no person is permitted permanent residency status. If necessary, wait to formally admit the new state until there is another state seeking admission that can preserve the partisan balance in the Senate.
13.3. Reduce the U.S. global footprint. Specifically: 1) renounce unnecessary U.S. land claims, 2) work to resolve outstanding foreign land claims peacefully, and 3) shrink the number of overseas U.S. military bases and garrisons to a minimum.
Plank 14. Update our public symbols.
14.1. To increase voter turnout, hold federal elections on the second Monday in May instead of the first week of November and make Election Day a federal holiday.
14.2. As a result of the foregoing change, convene Congress on June 1st instead of January 3rd (which will eliminate congressional lame-duck sessions) and inaugurate the president on July 1st instead of January 20th (which will shorten presidential transitions).
14.3. To simplify federal budgeting, begin the federal fiscal year on January 1st instead of October 1st.
14.4. Update the ten federal holidays, and the images on United States coins and currency, to celebrate American principles and achievements.
Revised: June 4, 2016.
Published: June 21, 2013.
Author: Dean Clancy.