A Plan to Renew the Promise of American Life
One-Page Summary of All Recommendations
Plank 1. Ensure ballot integrity
1.1. To safeguard the sanctity of the ballot in federal elections: 1) permit only citizens of the United States to vote, 2) require states and localities to keep voter lists cleaned up on a continuous basis, 3) require a valid form of identification for in-person voting, 4) encourage states to join an interstate compact for sharing voter-registration information on a real-time basis, 5) prohibit same-day registration (or make it at least as fraud-proof as pre-election registration), 6) require that absentee and online ballots be notarized or verified in a truly reliable way, 7) prohibit unsolicited vote-by-mail schemes, and 8) punish ballot harvesting and the fraudulent production and bundling of absentee ballots.
1.2. To maximize voters’ confidence in election results, require the use of paper ballots in all cases and make machine and online vote-counting at least as secure as online banking. To thwart ballot-box-stuffing, canvass and count all early and absentee votes prior to election day. Canvass and count ballots in the presence of independent observers. 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, say, seven calendar days soon before election day. To reduce gaming and coercion, do not allow votes to be changed or ballots ‘corrected,’ 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 restore voter sovereignty and the benefits of healthy political-party competition: 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.
1.6. 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 or ranked-choice voting.
1.7. To ensure that voters choose their representatives and not the reverse, take reasonable steps to minimize the evils of gerrymandering. For example, have independent nonpartisan commissions, whose members are chosen by lot, draw district lines after each census, guided by sensible rules, such as ‘keep districts compact and simple,’ and ‘follow county lines, where possible, regardless of partisan distribution.’ Do not let judges draw district lines.
1.8. To keep Representatives and Senators dependent on their constituents, eschew proportional representation schemes. Stick with single-member geographic districts.
1.9. To encourage wiser deliberation in lawmaking, and a salutary stability in the law, repeal and eschew such Progressive-era ‘direct democracy’ reforms as initiative, referendum, and recall. Instead, leave all merely 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.
1.11. To bring the House of Representatives closer to the people, expand the House to maintain a ratio of six Representatives for every one Senator. Specifically, after the next census expand the House to 600 members. Thereafter, whenever a new state joins the Union, expand the House by twelve seats, distributing the new seats by population as is done after each decennial 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 diminish political corruption, eschew the impossible goal of ‘getting money out of politics’ and instead dramatically shrink the size and scope of the federal establishment and restore strict constitutional limits on federal power — the only reforms that can even hope to actually reduce corruption and the influence of money-in-politics. Repeal all existing federal campaign-finance laws, except those prohibiting contributions by foreigners, and leave it to states to regulate campaigns according to common sense, as the Founders intended.
Plank 2. Restore consent-based citizenship
2.1. On a prospective basis, restore the Constitution’s default policy of consent-based, rather than birthplace, citizenship (or to put it in legal terms, go back to jus sanguinis rather than jus soli as the default policy, employing jus soli in select cases as an administrative convenience). In practical terms: 1) grant United States citizenship automatically to each of the following descriptions of person, but only to them: i) the natural child of a U.S. citizen, whether born on U.S. soil or abroad, and ii) the natural child, born on U.S. soil, of a non-citizen who is a permanent resident alien or who is serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces; and 2) cease granting automatic U.S. citizenship to the child of a sojourner or unauthorized entrant, regardless of where the child is born. Effectuate this policy prospectively, without depriving any existing citizen of his or her citizenship, and do it by statute (and to the extent possible by executive order) or as a last resort by constitutional amendment.
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 those who, for whatever reason, voluntarily choose to renounce their 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 persons who are likely to assimilate and who can offer useful talents, skills, or backgrounds, 2) halt or greatly reduce immigration by any class of persons who are unlikely to assimilate or whose presence in large numbers would disturb our nation’s social, political, or economic tranquillity (including, when necessary, by reducing immigration from entire countries or regions), and 3) stop impressing employers into the service of our immigration agencies. Instead, 4) intercept, detain, and promptly deport unauthorized border crossers and visa overstayers, 5) build and maintain effective physical barriers to prevent unauthorized border crossings, 6) require temporary visitors to check in with immigration agencies on a regular basis, and 7) indefinitely detain persons claiming political asylum or refugee status until their claims are finally resolved. In doing these things, take care to safeguard the mental and physical well-being of detainees, especially children.
Plank 3. End judicial usurpation
3.1. Appoint to the bench only principled originalists with an ample paper trail. No stealth candidates.
3.2. Give principled originalists a majority on every federal court, including the Supreme Court, by altering the number of seats, either by attrition or legislation.
3.3. To diminish the reach of rogue appellate courts, increase the number of federal circuits.
3.4. To rein in rogue judges, judiciously alter the jurisdiction and powers of the federal judiciary, for example, by stripping lower courts of jurisdiction in sensitive areas and eliminating ‘national’ injunctions.
3.5. To limit the damage caused by erroneous judicial rulings, and to give courts more opportunities to reverse them, minimize the use of stare decisis and aggressively employ such traditional tools of equitable interpretation as narrow construction, avoiding, distinguishing, overruling, and reversing.
3.6. Always put the Constitution first. In judging eschew a blind deference to legislative majorities. In legislating eschew a blind deference to unelected judges and bureaucrats.
3.7. If the foregoing reforms prove insufficient to end judicial usurpation, as a last resort restructure the Supreme Court to permanently improve 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 income taxation, initially by statute and eventually by constitutional amendment. Specifically, abolish all taxes on: personal and corporate income, wages, salaries, gifts, estates, pensions, annuities, profits, receipts, rents, royalties, interest, dividends, and capital gains, and all taxes on trades, professions, and occupations.
4.3. Where gradual phase-outs are required, prioritize rate reduction over loophole-closing.
4.4. Do not neglect to eliminate payroll taxes, lest they become a taproot for income taxes to reappear. When possible reduce income and payroll tax rates simultaneously. When forced to choose, eliminate payroll taxes first.
4.5. Fund Social Security and Medicare entirely from general revenues rather than payroll taxes. Grant to their trust funds a permanent tap on the general fund, to be used as needed to ensure timely payment of all scheduled benefits. In this way, make both programs permanently solvent without having to cut benefits.
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 value-added tax (VAT), a flat-rate income tax (‘flat tax’), or a national retail sales tax (‘FairTax’).
Plank 6. Restore honest money
6.1. To secure the blessings of economic health and fiscal common sense, restore honest, constitutional money and popular control of the money supply through an enlightened system of free banking, free minting, and free choice of currency.
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 and currency (specie-backed banknotes) can be legal tender. 3) No state may issue coins or currency. 4) No one may counterfeit U.S. Government-issued coins or currency. 5) Fiat money notes (‘bills of credit’) are forbidden.
6.3. Allow gold and silver coins and currency to resume their natural role as money. Re-monetize specie and specie-backed banknotes, regardless of issuer or denomination, as follows: 1) lift all restrictions on private ownership of them, 2) abolish all taxes and penalties on them, 3) permit them to serve as legal tender for all private debts and all public charges, taxes, and dues, 4) restore the enforceability of gold-clause contracts, 5) restore the automatic convertibility of specie coins into specie-backed banknotes and vice versa at the Treasury, and 6) resume the issuance of constitutional money (i.e., United States Government-issued gold and silver coins and currency as defined in the Coinage Act of 1792).
6.4. Over a period of years, gently remove fiat money (including Federal Reserve Notes and base-metal coins) from circulation, replacing it with honest, constitutional money in a non-disruptive manner.
6.5. Permit the free exchange of bullion and specie for constitutional money at the Treasury on demand.
6.6. Allow any bank, not just a privileged central bank or the Treasury, to issue notes, backed by specie or other assets, that may lawfully circulate as currency.
6.7. Uphold the right of private parties, in face-to-face transactions, to use physical money (legal-tender coins and currency) rather than digital or checkbook money. Eschew the idea of a ‘cashless’ society.
6.8. To keep the coinage honest, mark all United States Government-issued 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.
6.9. When necessary, amend the Coinage Act to adjust the precious-metal content of United States gold coins, in order to keep both gold and silver in continuous circulation (counteract Gresham’s Law).
6.10. Promote free competition between banks. Make market entry easy, allow branch banking, and permit fractional reserve banking. Never provide taxpayer guarantees for banks that overextend themselves, and resist the urge, in a crisis, to provide taxpayer bailouts to insolvent or illiquid banks. Keep the bankruptcy laws just as between creditors and debtors. To reduce moral hazard, phase out government deposit insurance.
6.11. Transform the quasi private Federal Reserve System into a fully public independent treasury system, similar to the one that existed and worked quite well from 1846 to 1914. Restore to the Treasury Department the Fed’s current functions as federal fiscal agent, lender of last resort, and national bank regulator.
6.12. Overturn, by statutory and judicial means, the mischievous doctrines of the Legal Tender and Gold Clause Cases, which erroneously attribute to the U.S. Government ‘plenary’ economic powers alleged to be ‘inherent’ in national sovereignty, but which are in fact antithetical to the constitutional text and to the spirit of free republican government.
Plank 7. Limit debt
7.1. Establish, by constitutional amendment, an enforceable cap on total federal debt, defined in terms of a specific number of dollars. The amendment or amendments 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 in states representing a majority of the U.S. population, 3) enforce the cap with presidential sequesters and impoundments, 4) define the term ‘dollar’ explicitly, in an airtight way, so that the amendment cannot be evaded through redefinition (preferably just reiterating the existing, implicit definition), and 5) punish any breach of the cap with strong, credible penalties for the federal officials responsible for the breach. Good models for such an amendment include the Do Your Job Amendment and the Compact for America Balanced Budget Amendment.
7.2. If Congress refuses to originate the debt limitation amendment, originate it via the states through an Article V convention of states. In order to lay to rest all concerns about a runaway convention, coordinate the state amendment drive by means of a legally binding interstate compact that includes within its terms the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment and all of the rules, appointment procedures, delegate instructions, etc., necessary for a brief plebiscitary convention, whose sole purpose is to vote up or down on that amendment without change. The pioneering example of how to do this is the Interstate Compact for a Balanced Federal Budget.
7.3. Even before the debt limitation amendment is ratified, return to the pre-1917 congressional practice of fully financing each new spending bill within its own text (i.e., pay-as-you-go and borrow-as-you-go).
Plank 8. Freeze peacetime spending
8.1. Generate routine, modest federal budget surpluses by means of a comprehensive, enforceable spending freeze.
8.2. Establish a statutory cap on total federal peacetime outlays, defined initially as a share of GDP and then, after the restoration of honest, constitutional 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, except when replacing an inferior tax with a superior one.
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 one dozen or so.
8.8. Devote surpluses to devolution, debt reduction, and tax relief—never to net spending increases.
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, with respect to any program that cannot be justified, according to the following formula: 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 the joint state-federal Medicaid program, where block-granting may be impeded by state reluctance, it may be necessary, for practical political reasons, to first break the program up into multiple sub-block grants, focused on the program’s main sub-populations. Alternatively, it may be necessary, to get the program under control, to first make it all-federal (i.e., relieve states of the burden of helping to finance it). In either case, the ultimate goal should be orderly devolution to the states.
9.6. So long as welfare programs remain in the federal portfolio, adopt such commonsense reforms as means-testing, time limits, work requirements, anti-double-dipping rules, anti-fraud protections, and lock-out periods for non-compliance. Where necessary, use wait lists. Where feasible, provide in-kind help instead of cash assistance (for example, actual groceries instead of food stamps).
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.
9.8. In the area of narcotics control, devolve federal expenditures and activities to the separate states and terminate the failed federal drug war, which, like alcohol Prohibition, has fueled organized crime and gang violence without suppressing demand or reducing addiction rates. Amend federal drug laws and treaty commitments as necessary to effectuate a return to federalism and common sense.
Plank 10. Shrink the cabinet
10.1. Reduce the number of federal cabinet-level departments from fifteen to no more than, say, seven or eight.
10.2. Without exception, place every agency of an executive character under a cabinet secretary who reports directly to the president.
10.3. Bring the Presidential Succession Act into line with the Constitution, and avert a possible constitutional crisis, by removing from the line of succession the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tem.
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 all ‘heads of departments,’ that is, all politically appointed leaders of executive-branch agencies, 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, non-precious federal land immediately to the states or the private sector, taking special care to protect national parks and other precious federal lands from human damage and commercial development. With respect to areas designated as precious: 1) Lease them to the states, to be managed by 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. 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). 3) At the end of the transitional lease period, if the proposed 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.
13.1. Bring our practice into line with our founding principles by ending the era of U.S. colonialism, in an orderly way, by a date certain. Specifically, announce a sunset date for the current political status of all U.S. territories. Before that deadline, grant statehood to any willing territory, if it voluntarily opts for statehood, according to the normal constitutional process. After the deadline, declare any remaining permanently inhabited U.S. territory to be independent of the United States of America and invite it to enter into a compact of free association with us. 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. In making the offer of statehood, remind the territories 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 shall be permitted permanent residency status. If necessary, in order to preserve the partisan balance in the Senate, wait to formally admit the new state until there is another state seeking admission.
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: March 27, 2020.
Published: June 21, 2013.
Author: Dean Clancy.