President Carter's White House counsel has concluded that the separation of powers provisions of the Constitution "almost guarantee stalemate" of the government and that it is time to consider constitutional changes making Congress more responsive to a preisent.
In a article entitled "To Form a Government" in the fall issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Lloyd N. Cutler argues that "we cannot fairly hold the president accountable for the success or failure of his overall program because he lacks the constitutional power to put the program into effect."
Cutler proposes a number of possible constitutional changes dealing with the elections, terms and powers of the preisdent and Congress that would have the effect of moving the U.S. government in the direction of the parliamentary government systems used in such Western European countries as Britain and West Germany.
The analysis of what Cutler calls "the structural inability of our government to propose, legislate and administer a balanced program for governing" is familiar and has been part of debates over the structure of the federal government that have raged among political scientists for decades.
Essentially, the argument is that because the president and Congress are elected separately and are independent of one another there is no guarantee that a president can win approval of his program, and no built-in penalty for him or Congress for failure to do so, even when Congress is controlled by the president's own party.
In contrast, in a parliamentary system, the executive branch officials such as the prime minister come from the parliament and stand or fall with their legislative colleagues of the majority party on their ability to enact the party's program.
While making this analysis and proposing constitutional modifications to reduce the separation of powers. Cutler also offers what is effect an apology for Carter's inability to deliver on many of his 1976 campaign promises.
He cites as an example the strategic arms limitations treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union. Following the Soviet invasion of afghanistan, the treaty was withdrawn from Senate consideration when it became clear the administration could not muster the necessary two-thirds approval.
"We elect one presidential candidate over another on the basis of our judgment of the overall program he presents, his ability to carry it out and his capacity to adapt his program to new developments as they arise," Cutler writes in the article."We elected President Carter, whose program included as one of its most important elements the successful completion of the SALT II) negotiations . . ."
Cutler writes that "the president and the Cabinet still hold [the] view" that Senate approval of SALT is the interest of the country. "But because we do not 'form a government' it has not been possible for President Carter to carry out this major part of his program."
Culter discusses a number of proposed constitutional charges -- including requiring voters in each congressional district to vote for the president, vice president and their House members as a single package -- and concludes with a combination of suggestions that "would be worthy of further study."
Under this suggestion, the president, vice president and all members of the House and Senate would be elected for simultaneous six-year terms. Once during his term, presumably during an impasse on a crucial issue, the president could dissolve Congress and call for new congressional elections. Congress, in turn, could then vote by majority votes of both chambers for a simultaneous new election for president for the remainder of the single six-year term he would be allowed. These special mid-term elections would all take place within 120 days of the dissolving of Congress.
Cutler says he is not persuaded of the merits of any of the proposals, but adds that "we need to do better than we have in 'forming a government' for this country and this need is becoming more acute."