Such was the response of Benjamin Franklin to an inquiry from a citizen outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1787. Today our national government is highly dysfunctional and Congress has an especially low approval rating of 11%. U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R, Utah) believes that Congress is rightly to blame for the dysfunction.
Says Mr. Lee in an article, “The Incredibly Shrinking Congress,” in the July 11, 2016 issue of the National Review:
- The powers vested in Congress in Article I of the Constitution are orders of magnitude stronger than the powers given to the President (Article II) or the Supreme Court (Article III). This is because legislators are closer and more accountable to the people. Here is what Congress is doing wrong:
- Too much power is delegated to the executive branch by allowing federal agencies to write the vast majority of the laws in the form of rules, regulations and legal interpretations.
- Congress surrenders too much authority over federal spending to the President by letting the budget process come down to a single yes or no vote up against a crisis deadline.
- Congress delegates too much of its constitutional oversight powers to the judicial branch. The answer is to make agency rules subject to Congressional veto.
- Unfortunately too many members have a vested interest in a weak Congress because it relieves them of the hard job of legislating conscientiously. Only a strong Congress can fix a weak Congress. For example, Congress could:
- Require legislative approval of major new rules and reauthorizations of existing ones.
- Modernize its budget process to make sure that all agency budgets get proper individual consideration.
- Rein in executive discretion by, for example, directing federal judges to conduct traditional judicial reviews in challenges against the administrative state, instead of simply deferring to the agencies own interpretations.
As Mr. Lee concludes, “Putting Congress back in charge of federal policy, would put American people back in charge of Washington, regardless of who sits in the oval office.” In today’s divisive and destructive political environment, this is a very good idea indeed.
I really appreciated these remarks. I shall elaborate on them later in the week.
I look forward to your remarks.
Lee’s statements refer to the structure of the federal institution. He is correct. However, I cannot imagine any institutional change happening until one party has control of both houses and the presidency. Rigidity, rather than flexibility, is the mode of operations today. We no longer have a practice of loyal opposition with either party, whether it be for Supreme Court appointees or legislation, particularly structural reform.
It is undesirable to have both houses of Congress and the presidency controlled by one party because there will then likely be an abuse of power.
If we had a stronger Congress, insisting on its own prerogatives, then it could function well independently of who is the president. This is what I am advocating in the post.
But you’re right. This will be hard to achieve in our present, ultra-ideological climate.