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In my last post I discussed the apparent inversion of the responsibility of the executive branch of government, namely that it has taken on a far greater role in domestic policy while turning its back in large part on its traditional responsibility for foreign affairs. The result has been an over-mighty presidency at home, a weakened and ineffectual Congress, and a rudderless foreign policy.
While I challenged the American public to rise against the tide of executive overreach, I did not thoroughly address what Congress itself can do to challenge the siphoning away of its traditional powers. There is in fact a great deal it can do.
The supreme legislative power of the United States is vested in the two houses of Congress. It is the only body with the authority to make laws. Yet that power has been furtively ignored by the Obama administration, which has taken to issuing executive orders with gusto. Executive orders are meant to be directives on how best to execute the laws made by Congress, not laws in themselves. Yet that is the character they have begun to take. One way for Congress to reassert its control over the legislative process would be to create far stricter guidelines in law as to what constitutes an appropriate executive order.
A reassertion of congressional eminence can only succeed if there is a culture change in its members. Senators and congressmen once jealously guarded the privileges and powers of their chambers and branch, even if it meant challenging a president of their own party. The culture in the legislature has to be restored to the belief that the branches of government are institutions in themselves that must be preserved, not just organs for exercising power for whatever party happens to hold them. The political culture in Washington has to change if the constitutional checks and balances are to hold.
It is one of the ironies of history that it is the executive branch that has grown over-mighty. Indeed, the framers of the Constitution feared far more that the Congress was the most likely institution of government to accrete power at the expense of the executive and judiciary. In their eyes the president was simply the chief magistrate of the republic, not an elective monarch.
We need more execution of the laws from the president and less kingly pronouncements. There is a great deal that can be done to restore the presidency to its rightful bounds, but it can only be accomplished if Congress also accepts its proper role as equal partner in the business of government.