More on American columnists discovering comparative politics

At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser offers another in the recent series of examples of American columnists noticing comparative politics. This is good!

Millhiser suggests we look to Chile’s current presidential democracy for models of how to prevent government shutdowns. As he notes, correctly, Chile’s president has exclusive power under the country’s constitution to propose legislation in areas relating to finance and budget, along with “urgency” provisions and restrictions on congressional authority to change executive proposals.

In other words, a presidential (separation-of-powers) model does not necessarily have to leave the executive dependent on legislative initiative to pass a budget or other financial matters.

While the recognition of other models is good, I am afraid I have to stop short of advocating the Chilean solution. If I decried the possible “Latin Americanization” of US presidentialism during the previous administration, I hardly can advocate it now.

9 thoughts on “More on American columnists discovering comparative politics

  1. I find it difficult to take seriously anything that associates Sebastián Piñera and “functional government” with one another, given that the country was essentially shut down by street protests for much of 2011, but the constitutional model, especially with the near-constant polarization of the current system, is worth taking a look at.

  2. Wasn’t Chile’s present constitution designed to allow a dictator to continue his rule, with a constitutional facade? Which failed at this purpose anyway? I don’t see how its a model for anything.

    • Chile’s constitution started out as Ed suggests, but was substantially amended after Pinochet lost the plebiscite in 1988.

      One could have made a broadly similar argument to the one Millhiser makes by referencing other presidential constitutions with more “democratic” origins, such as Brazil’s, where the president also has very substantial powers to shape the legislative agenda and the budget. Whether such provisions are “good” or not is a separate matter, but it would be mistaken to say these represent nothing more than authoritarian legacies.

  3. He doesn’t mention that congress cannot amend the presidential budget proposal. Also, if congress fails to approve the budget proposal, the reversion point is the proposal. In other words, the presidential proposal becomes the actual budget if congress doesn’t approve it.

    • As I understand it, Chile’s congress may decrease expenditures proposed by the president, but not increase them. It also can move funds around without overall increase. So amendments are allowed, but under restrictions. If congress does not act after 60 days, the president’s proposal takes effect. Congress also can’t change the estimate of revenues.

  4. Rules against legislative amendments that increase aggregate expenditure or reduce aggregate revenue are quite common. They exist by standing order, among other places, in such heartlands of authoritarianism and repression as Britain and Australia. Ditto rules that give the executive exclusive fiscal initiative.

  5. Incidentally, one solution to the initiative logjam in California might be requiring initiatives to be self-funding so that an initiative, for example, that reduced aggregate revenue would have to identify the programs, services and activities to be cut in order to pay for the initiative.

  6. Alan (#6) makes a very important point. It is the USA, not Chile, that is unusual in having few provisions that prioritize the executive’s budget (or other) proposals.

    Of course, there is a fundamental difference: it is one thing to prioritize executive proposals in the legislature when the executive itself depends for its survival on the confidence of the legislative majority. It is quite another when the two branches originate and survive separately. By now, most presidential systems have put such priority provisions in their constitutions as a sort of “work around” the separation of powers. Cox and Morgenstern refer to these as “integrative” powers of presidents.

  7. The majority of presidential systems are actually ‘gubernatorial’, the several United States. Most governors have integrative powers ranging from the executive budget to the line-item veto. As far as I know no US state has a default budget or automatic continuing resolution but I could well be wrong,

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