与经典的英国"威斯敏斯特政体"相比，美国政治体制的问题尤其明显。英国采用的是简单多数票当选的议会制，没有联邦或分权制度，也没有成文宪法或司法复核【人文与社会：judicial review国内一般译为司法审查;感谢读者子瑜儿指出】。在这种体制下，政府一般会获得议会绝对多数票的支持。现任联合政府的形式在英国历史上极为罕见。一般来说，英国执政党在议会占据绝对多数。只要拥有英国下议院半数席位再加1票，就可以通过或推翻任何法律，这就是为什么英国有时会被称作"民主独裁"(democratic dictatorship)[人文与社会注：人民民主专政的英文译名是people's democratic dictatorship]。
除了宪法授予的制衡机制以外，美国国会还给了议员们其它许多机会，让他们可以使用否决权来要挟政府，比如100名参议员中的任何一人，都可以对行政部门的某项任命使用"匿名阻止表决权"。眼下就有一个极端的例子。奥巴马政府希望任命迈克尔•麦克福尔(Michael McFaul)为美国驻俄罗斯大使，但由于某些匿名共和党参议员的反对，参议院外交关系委员会无限期地推迟了表决。曾是斯坦福大学教授的麦克福尔在过去三年一直担任国家安全委员会(NSC)负责俄罗斯和欧亚事务的高级理事（也是笔者的一个老朋友）。他被广泛视为驻俄大使的合适人选，甚至共和党人也这么认为。根据《外交政策》(Foreign Policy)的报道，行使"匿名阻止表决权"的其中一位参议员之所以这么做，是想让联邦政府在自己所在的州建设一个设施。结果是，在明年3月俄罗斯选举新总统时，美国驻俄大使可能还没有上任。
本文作者是美国斯坦福大学弗里曼•斯波利研究所(Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute)高级研究员，其最新著作是《政治秩序诸起源》(The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution)
November 22, 2011 5:27 pm Financial Times
Oh for a democratic dictatorship and not a vetocracy
By Francis Fukuyama
The failure of the congressional supercommittee to reach a deal on the budget is a sad reflection of the polarisation in the US today. But this failure has roots that go well beyond the individuals charged with coming up with a plan to reduce the deficit; they go to the very nature of the political system. And while this committee has failed ignominiously, it contains the seed of an idea that might show us a way out of paralysis.
Americans take great pride in a constitution that limits executive power through a series of checks and balances. But those checks have metastasised. And now America is a vetocracy. When this system is combined with ideologised parties, one of which sees even the closing of tax loopholes as an unacceptable tax increase, the result is paralysis.
The problems of the US system are all too apparent when compared with the classic British Westminster system: parliamentary, with first-past-the-post voting, no federalism or decentralisation, and no written constitution or judicial review. Under such a system, governments are typically backed by a strong legislative majority. The present government's coalition is highly unusual for the UK, which typically gives the leading party a strong parliamentary majority. A simple majority plus one in the House of Commons can make or overturn any law in the land, which is why it has sometimes been referred to as a democratic dictatorship.
The American system, by contrast, splits power between a president and a two-chamber Congress; devolves power to states and local government; and permits the courts to overturn legislation on constitutional grounds. The system is deliberately engineered to put obstacles in the way of decisive government, which in turn is the result of a political culture strongly suspicious of centralised power.
The advantage of the British system with its fewer opportunities to cast vetoes is clear when it comes to passing budgets. The budget is written by the chancellor of the exchequer, who as an executive agent makes the difficult trade-offs between spending and taxes. This budget is passed by parliament, with little modification, a week or two after the government introduces it.
In the American system, by contrast, the president announces a budget at the beginning of the fiscal cycle; it is more an aspirational document than a political reality. The US constitution firmly locates spending authority in Congress, and indeed all 535 members of Congress use their potential veto power to extract concessions. The budget that eventually emerges after months of interest group lobbying is the product not of a coherent government plan, but of horse-trading among individual legislators, who always find it easier to achieve consensus by exchanging spending increases for tax cuts. Hence the permanent bias towards deficits.
In addition to the checks and balances mandated by the constitution, Congress has added a host of further opportunities for legislators to use their veto power to blackmail the system, such as the anonymous holds that any of 100 senators may place on executive branch appointments. A particularly egregious example of this is taking place today. The Obama administration has wanted to appoint Michael McFaul ambassador to Russia, but the foreign relations committee has put off action indefinitely due to the objections of certain unnamed Republican senators. Mr McFaul - formerly a professor at Stanford (and also a longtime friend) - has been senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council for the past three years and is widely regarded even by the Republicans as well qualified for the job. Foreign Policy magazine has reported that one of the holds is due to a senator wanting the federal government to build a facility in his state. As a result, the US may not have an ambassador in place in Moscow next March as the Russians vote for a new president.
If we are to get out of our present paralysis we need not only strong leadership, but changes in institutional rules. If constitutional amendments are off the table for the moment, there is nonetheless a list of reforms the US could undertake to reduce the number of veto points and simplify decision-making. One would be to eliminate senatorial holds; another would be a rollback of the filibuster for routine legislation; and a third would be a rule that would prevent legislative blackmail through irrelevant amendments.
But the most important potential change would be to move the budgeting process towards something that looked more like the Westminster system. Budgets would be formulated, as in the case of the failed supercommittee, by a much smaller group of legislators. Unlike today's strongly partisan committee, it would have heavy technocratic input from a non-partisan agency like the Congressional Budget Office that would be insulated from the interest group pressures that afflict the sitting legislators. A completed budget would be put before Congress in a single, unamendable up-or-down vote. The procedure has already been used successfully to get around interest group deadlock in fast-track trade legislation and by the non-partisan commission that decided which military bases to close.
This proposal has no chance of being accepted in the current climate of polarisation. Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican contenders for the party's presidential nomination, recently called the CBO a "socialist" institution. But our unaddressed fiscal problem is so great that something like it would seem essential as our economy continues to stagnate. Serving legislators are unlikely to be willing to give up their veto power soon. That is why political reform must first and foremost be driven by popular, grassroots mobilisation.
The writer is a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute. His latest book is 'The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution'
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