Frequent commenter Carl Pham has a novel and spectacular proposal, that doesn’t stand a chance in hell of being passed:
We need a Paygo Principle when it comes to Federal law. Namely, the total word count of all Federal law is forbidden — let us say by Constitutional Amendment — from increasing. Hence if Congress wants to write new law, they must first repeal or simplify enough existing law so that the total word count will remain unchanged.
And if we really want to encourage healthy competition between the political parties, like we have in the private sector, where firms compete for efficiency in providing a product or service, we can modify this slightly, like so:
(1) Each political party has their own “word credit” which they accumulate by repealing or simplifying law when they are in the majority. Credit does not pass between parties, so, e.g. if the Republicans when they take over in November repeal 50,000 words of law and then get replaced in 2012, the Democrats do not get to take advantage of the Republiicans’ 50,000 word credit. They have to earn their own.
(2) However, any credit remaining at the time you lose power carries over to the next time you gain power. So if the Republicans accumulated credit before being replaced in 2012, they could, when they return to power, immediatley start using that credit.
What I like about (2) is that it instantly reverses the motivations during a lame-duck session, or when you know you’re about to go down in flames. Rather than pass a bunch of law at the last-minute, flouting popular opinion, because you’ve got nothing to lose, you’d be motivated to repeal a bunch of law at the last minute, so as to guarantee yourself a credit when you return to power.
Naturally the other side isn’t going to help you, so you’re going to need to focus on repealing the least popular and most useless aspects of the law favored by your own party — which is very likely to align you better with the public’s wishes. You’ll tend to leave untouched the more popular stuff, and the bipartisan stuff, because you know this is most resistant to being repealed by the other side when they take over — and that helps you minimize how much credit they can accumulate right away.
Actually, I’d like to see the federal code reduced by an order of magnitude, so that could be incorporated into the plan as well. That is, in order to add new words, you’d have to take out ten existing ones for each one added. You could put some kind of floor on it to prevent it from disappearing altogether.
Of course, in order to do so, you’d be formalizing the existence of political parties in the Constitution, which doesn’t mention them at all.