RWCG


Why doesn’t Congress want power?
January 25, 2013, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

One of the interesting evolutions we’ve observed in our government the past 50-100 years or so is that our Congress does not want to have power. They want to give power to the other branches. They have devolved most actual tangible law-making to regulators and bureaucrats. They’ll pass a law (e.g. campaign finance reform) that many of them believe unconstitutional but hope the Supreme Court strikes it down. They don’t want to declare war or not-declare war, they want the President to just let ‘em know when he decides to use ‘war powers’. Etc.

Almost everywhere you look you see the Legislative Branch doing its darndest to make sure it gives power away to one of the other branches.

Today the Supreme Court (UPDATE: Nope, a lower court; the SC will presumably rule on this later) decided that the President had unconstitutionally ‘appointed’ some folks in defiance of an explicitly Constitutionally-specified power of Congress. If we had a true 6th-grade-civics ‘checks and balances’ type of government in which the Legislative Branch were coequal with and jockeying for power against the other two, they would have done something about this long ago. In light of this Supreme Court decision, a Legislative Branch that cared about its powers would presumably begin impeachment charges against the President for overstepping his authority and usurping power that is rightfully theirs. There is zero chance of that happening. Many reading this idea probably are confused by it, so outlandish it sounds. But think about it.

Now, of course there’s the fact that (due to the Clinton precedent) ‘impeachment’ as such will never be used again, against any President, for any reason, of course. But actually, that’s just another case in point.

So why doesn’t the US Congress want to have power? I guess, bless ‘em, it’s working for them – my impression is that Congressmen can get wealthier than ever. And (perhaps relatedly) the one power they do jealously guard is the power to spend money. But aside from that, they seem content to wither on the vine, and hand off power to the others. It’s weird.

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15 Comments so far
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They want status, not power. An individual congressman has virtually no power anyway. Why risk all that delicious status over a controversial vote? Better to let bureaucrats and courts take all the blame for bad policy.

If Congress were composed of one representative, he would guard his power as jealously as the president does.

Comment by Scrutineer

Hmm. Maybe the answer is to shrink Congress? One Senator per state, and bigger House districts…give them each bigger and more stable fiefdoms.

Comment by The Crimson Reach

Well, the obvious answer is that actually exercising power in an obvious way is terribly risky. Why not let some anonymous bureaucrat do that, while you keep your executive-level pay?

As long as the voters accept this as being okay, then it’s Okay.

Comment by Dave

This leaves a mystery though as to why the SC and President want power. Do those roles just attract different kinds of people?

Comment by The Crimson Reach

The President does not want power (in the sense that he could make a decision and it later turns out that it was obviously a bad decision, even to someone with an IQ of 100).

That’s why he creates panels, and delegates power through executive orders, and generally surrounds himself with committees of committees who will defuse the blame for any actual decision-making.

The Supreme Court is probably the seat of our government. I would agree that power there has not been decentralized. It’s not clear that the SC is grabbing more power though.

Comment by Dave

Question though:
Isn’t not taking action not the same as ‘powe avoidance’?

What I mean is, isn’t choosing to pass off responsibilities and authority to other part of government kind of a power in its own right? Maybe it’s just a silly point about semantics, but I’m inclined to think that functionally saying “the legislative branch will do nothing about presidential overreaches” is an extremely powerful statement.

Comment by Tangent style

Hmm. Interesting point. :-) I guess my answer is ‘sort of? but not really’.

The first time a Congress sloughs off power to the President about something, then sure, you could say they have Done Something Powerful. From that point on however, they no longer have that ‘power’ at all, to slough off or not, because it’s gone, because they gave it to the President.

So it is kind of semantics.

Comment by The Crimson Reach

You said the Supreme Court in your post, but the link says it was a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Comment by Max

Good catch, thanks – I made an update noting my error

Comment by The Crimson Reach

Happy to help, you’re doing God’s work here. Been reading this blog for over a year, but never felt I had anything to add until now. Keep it up!

Comment by Max

Because congress couldn’t have power even if it wanted it, it selects and preselects for people who only want the vague appearance of power. Now, figure out why congress couldn’t have the power if they wanted it and you win. You know the Roman Empire never stopped calling itself the Roman Republic, right? SPQR.

Comment by josh

[…] – Why doesn’t Congress want power? […]

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Dave up there is right.

Don’t forget your Spiderman. With (actual) power comes responsibility. Well, say that you don’t want the latter, because if you are responsible for something and it sucks, people might not reelect you, and then what will you do? Sell used cars? Solution: give up real power. Hand it over to someone else, ideally in some backhanded way that nobody can hold you responsible for. Then nobody can say anything is your fault. Meanwhile, the paychecks keep coming.

Comment by Leonard

I have a jpg of a cartoon: “Never delegate authority; delegate liability.”

Comment by Lark

Power was ceded from Congress to the Executive in 1933. Permanent government has exploded from that point, and taking it over has little appeal to a legislative body. Further, Empire demands a dominant executive.

All of the Founders, absent Hamilton, would tell you that Congress is the most equal of the three branches. That sentiment went the way of the tenth amendment.

Comment by james wilson




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