A proposal to restore authority to Congress
We are in a constitutional crisis. Since 2011, approval ratings for Congress are consistently below 20 percent. Presidential authority and executive overreach are greater and more abusive now than during any time in recent memory. Members in the House and the Senate struggle to offer alternative policies and are stonewalled by the executive branch. The only policies that are adopted come from the White House, not Congress. This is not how the Constitution was designed. This is not what the Founders intended. We continue to move further and further away from the checks and balances originally crafted under our federal system. Regardless of who sits in the White House, Republican or Democrat, something must be done to tip back the scales of federal power.
In the summer of 1787, delegates from across the thirteen colonies arrived in Philadelphia to make changes to the governing document of the time – the Articles of Confederation. The compromises reached during that summer gave birth to one of the strongest and most long-lasting documents governing a free people in the history of civilization – the Constitution. This document defined the role of a new federal government which ensures our national defense, interstate commerce, and an agile legal system - while allowing individual states to function. Most importantly, a government with shared authority and defined responsibilities.
Following the Civil War, America saw a successive number of – what history views as – “weak” presidents, those who viewed Congress, as defined under Article 1 of the Constitution, as the lead branch.
However, against the backdrop of the Great Depression and World War II, the executive branch emerged as the active political force in our body politic during the turn of the century and has since remained the dominant branch. At the time, the philosophy of a dynamic, active executive made sense to many: to the members of Congress who lacked the ability to make the tough, quick, and decisive moves necessary to navigate the crises of the time and to the public who saw the inherently delayed response of the legislating branch. Members began to relinquish more authority to the president for the sake of the country’s well-being.
Politicians tend to speak frequently about the proverbial “slippery slope.” When I say this was the mother of all “slippery slopes,” I mean it with all my soul. The six decades following World War II have shown a consistent strengthening of executive power. Over and over again, the Supreme Court has awarded more authority to the president in cases such as INS v. Chadha and Chevron v. NRDC. As a result, the House of Representatives, the closest branch to the American people, can no longer do the people’s work.
What are we left with?
Here is an example of the strongest action Congress can take against a policy from the president. Both bodies of Congress pass a resolution against an executive policy, which the president vetoes, and then the policy moves forward as is. That’s it. Some might argue that Congress can override a president’s veto. This is true. But this is also rare and always relies on bipartisan opposition. In the age of strong political parties, the override falls short of the way the Founders intended. Furthermore, the Founders never intended for policies to be made by the branch whose job it is to enforce the law. Nevertheless, that is where we are. Closer and closer to a national, top-down, bureaucratic state filled with unelected executive staff writing orders and memorandums with zero accountability to the public at large.
What can we do?
My proposal is simple. I will introduce a handful of bills that will restore authority to Congress and, in doing so, return authority to the American people. Under my plan, Congress would have more say over agency rulemaking, a process that is currently dominated by bureaucrats. Agencies would no longer be able to line their pockets with collected fees and fines, but would have to return those dollars to the Treasury. A sunset provision for every bureau and agency would be put in place to force Congress to renew its charter and update its mission – sharing that responsibility with the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office. Congress would again use the appropriations process not simply to “punish” agency activities that we disagree with, but also to direct those agencies in federal, state, and local government projects in a completely transparent and accountable way. There would be no more hidden payouts or crony-capitalism.
With this proposal, I hope to start the conversation of returning our government to the way our Founders intended. We all agree that we are in a constitutional crisis. It’s time for members to step up and offer solutions. As Rep. Bill McCulloch, a Republican instrumental in the civil rights debate of the 60s, once said: “The function of Congress is not to convert the will of the majority into law, rather its function is to hammer out on the anvil of public debate a compromise between polar positions acceptable to a majority.”
To my fellow legislators:
Bring your ideas and get out your hammers. It’s time to go to work for the American people.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.