Revive Congress?

Public approval of Congress is in the single digits, down to blood relatives and pets as the joke goes in Washington. So perhaps the answer to our political troubles is to focus on making Congress more powerful? Yes—that’s the well-reasoned argument my old boss Chris DeMuth makes in The Weekly Standard in “A Constitutional Congress?” Here’s the important core of the argument that supplies its title:

A constitutional revival will require a cultural revival. Recovering Congress’s lost powers will require relearning legislative skills, redirecting legislators’ energies, and risking the ire of party constituencies who are unfamiliar with the obligations of legislating and their centrality to the separation of powers. That is a tall order, but the time may be ripe.

You should set aside the necessary time to read the whole thing, but it is a long piece, so here is an outline of the main points of the reform agenda toward the end of the article, some of which will require you to read the accompanying explanation to understand:

First, retrieve the recently relinquished borrowing, taxing, and spending authorities.

Second, reinstitute the spending power.

Third, regulate the regulators. 

Fourth, censure unconstitutional executive acts. 

Fifth, acknowledge executive strengths.

This one really begs part of its more complete explanation:

The 114th Congress should initiate a practice of inviting the agencies, through the president, to submit wish-lists of management mandates, superfluous programs, and counterproductive procedures that they would like repealed. It should give prompt and serious attention to the submissions, and consider establishing a mechanism, akin to the base-closing programs, for compiling and considering management reforms through a structure it has legislated in advance. The purpose of such a mechanism, of course, is to give Congress political cover to do what it knows needs to be done but that it cannot do on its own — it must rely on the executive branch’s comparative advantage in balancing national against local and parochial interests.

Finally, it would be particularly bold, and fitting, for a Republican Congress to “repeal and replace” the impoundment provisions of the 1974 Budget Act for the signature of a Democratic president.

As Michael Greve comments in his approving notice of this article: “Because there’s something humiliating about being a member of an institution with an approval rating below that of Ebola and Lindsay Lohan. There’s no downside to trying something totally rad: take responsibility, and legislate.”

But as I say, RTWT.


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