Roadmap for Renewal

Roadmap for Renewal:
A Legislative Blueprint for Protecting our Democracy

Our political system – like many liberal democracies around the world – is experiencing a turbulent moment. With the country divided, a President lashing out at checks and balances, a Congress abdicating its basic legislative and oversight responsibilities, and a government failing to address the country’s pressing public policy challenges, it is all too easy to despair. And yet, America has gone through worse and emerged stronger for it. Our country’s political course can change quickly. We expect it will do so again.  

The next Congress will have an opportunity and an obligation to enact legislation to restore weakened norms, rebuild damaged institutions, and revive the public’s confidence in our democracy.

This document proposes a package of legislative measures to restore and shore up the fundamental structures, institutions, and norms of our constitutional democracy. We propose twenty-one reforms in five categories.  The first three categories focus on the branches of government: (i) strengthening Congress’s capacity to fulfill its constitutional role; (ii) constraining abuses of executive power; and (iii) protecting the courts as a check on the other branches in order to uphold the constitution.  

The other two categories focus on the most important part of our democracy: we the people. The fourth category – protecting inclusive and fact-based democratic dissent, debate, and participation – addresses how to make sure the public is accurately informed about our government and able to fully and inclusively participate in the public sphere without fear of threat or intimidation.  The final category – modernizing our campaigns and election system to protect and enhance participation and accurately reflect the views of voters – focuses on how to ensure that our elections reflect the democratic choices of the country.  

This is a package that Republicans and Democrats in Congress should embrace. The proposals do not fall along traditional partisan lines: some address issues that have long been championed by Republicans, others by Democrats, and many others that have not been on the political radar until recently. The proposals draw on smart ideas from others across the political and ideological spectrum – including think tanks, expert policymakers, and NGOs. Much reform is needed, and this blueprint is just a starting point. We welcome additional suggestions and ideas for improving this blueprint, which you can submit on our website:

In the coming months, we will release policy papers refining and expanding on the proposals included below, explaining both why they are necessary and how the solutions will work. We welcome candidates of both parties at all levels of government to engage with these proposals, and we look forward to working with a future Congress to develop legislation to implement these reforms.

This blueprint will not cure all of our democracy’s challenges. American democracy has always been imperfect, especially with respect to communities excluded based on race, ethnicity, and gender. Our democracy will not be whole until we have confronted the continuing legacy of exclusion. Further, the global challenges we have seen recently to liberal democracies results from large structural shifts – changing demographics and economic patterns; new technology; a new media landscape; growing tribalism.

American democracy was in decline before the election of President Trump. It will continue to be at risk of decline after unless we reinforce our democratic institutions now to reverse this decline and prevent the emergence of a future autocrat who may turn out to be even more effective at exercising unchecked executive power. Congress cannot legislate solutions to all of our problems. Many will involve hard public policy choices that a well-functioning political system should be able to make. Other institutions beyond Congress – the judiciary, the private sector, state governments, civic society, and our national culture – will need to contribute to responding to these broader structural challenges.

The post-Watergate era can serve as a model. After Nixon resigned, Congress took bipartisan action and enacted significant reforms on a wide range of pertinent issues. It passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1978, which created the Office of Government Ethics, the Office of the Independent Counsel, and special prosecutors. Congress also instituted term limits at the FBI, created the Congressional Budget Office, and set up the Church Commission, which ultimately led to permanent committees on intelligence, FISA, and other reforms. And even before Nixon left office, Congress overrode his veto to enact the War Powers Act.

One of the reasons that our democracy is not functioning as well as it should is that Congress as an institution has been so deficient. And yet, the Founders believed that Congress – which they placed in Article I of our Constitution – could uphold our constitutional democracy. The Constitution gives Congress as an institution a wide range of powerful tools. Members of Congress across party lines must rise to the occasion in placing country over party and personal interests in order to protect our democracy.  

And it is up to all of us as Americans and as voters to ensure they do. During a dark moment for our country, it is all the more important to come together around a vision for renewal.

Read the full proposal here. Submit your comment here.

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