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Balance of Power
Balance of Power
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Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Fox Theater in Detroit.

At the next debates, ask about things a president can do

Marcum is a governance fellow at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan, pro-free-market, public policy research organization.

July's Democratic presidential debates highlighted a number of important national issues. From health care to economic inequality, candidates offered many purported solutions. The vast majority of these ambitious plans, however, face a fundamental constitutional roadblock: Congress.

Without congressional support, plans such as Medicare for All or amending the Immigration Nationality Act are dead on arrival. Voters, candidates and media alike are well aware that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would prevent any such legislation from passing his chamber, and if Republicans take the House, the chances for passage are even slimmer.

But if you were completely unfamiliar with American civics, you might have assumed from watching the debates that a president's role is to make policy and lambaste Congress when it does not comply. But of course, all legislative power rests with Congress. Viewers of the debates would be better served by questions that illuminate the presidency's actual institutional roles. These responsibilities are vital for governing, but we often fail to press candidates about them until it is too late.

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President Trump wants to abolish OPM, an action that some argue would inject partisanship into federal hiring practices.

Trump plan to dismantle personnel agency would weaken safeguards against partisanship

The Conversation

May is a senior research associate at Boise State University.

The U.S. government has put expertise and competence ahead of political considerations when it hires people for more than 135 years.

As a result of changes made during President Chester Arthur's administration, the vast majority of government jobs can only be awarded on the basis of merit. Prospective employees historically had to complete a competitive exam and today must complete detailed applications, undergo interviews and get their background checked. Employees also cannot be fired or demoted for political reasons.

These rules apply to all but about 4,000 politically appointed employees among the 2 million people who work for the federal government, not counting postal service workers. Those only require presidential support and, for around 1,200 of these jobs, Senate confirmation.

The Trump administration is taking several steps that could remove safeguards against partisanship and nepotism in the federal workforce. Among other things, it is pushing to dissolve the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the administration of the civil service system. Democrats are objecting to this move.

As a public administration researcher, I look at how political partisanship influences the relationship between government employees and elected officials.

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Balance of Power

Government watchdogs over-emphasize waste but under-stress mission accomplishment, think tank says

Those involved with oversight of the executive branch should do more than simply investigate waste, fraud and abuse, one of the most prominent "good government" think tanks has concluded.

In a report released Tuesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center examined how executive branch agencies review their own operations and how Congress puts fresh eyes on the bureaucracy, analyzed the effectiveness of current practices, and offered recommendations to improve processes.

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Both Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid have taken hacks at the filibuster rules, but it's time to go even further, writes Golden.

McConnell opens door for Democrats to unrig the system: End the filibuster

Golden is the author of "Unlock Congress" and a senior fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, which seeks to improve democracy on a global scale. He is also a member of The Fulcrum's advisory board.

It may seem like recent Supreme Court decisions have the conclusive power to halt reform efforts to unrig congressional districts and suck the billions of dollars out of our politics. But this is really not the case. A path remains for Democratic leaders to restore fairness and common sense to American elections. But in order to do it, they'll need to rip a page out of Mitch McConnell's book and restore majority rule to the Senate.

The fact is that millions of Americans of different political stripes crave electoral reforms that would make the House more accurately reflect voter preferences and would slash the corruptive influence of big money on Capitol Hill.

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