Congress: This Time It’s PersonalPosted: March 14, 2014
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Now we know what it takes to nudge Congress’s sense of self-respect into a state of at least semi-consciousness.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, God bless her, is throwing a very public fit over findings that the CIA spied on Congress — on her Select Senate Intelligence Committee, specifically — as part of a campaign to undermine the committee’s investigation into an interrogation program that the agency does not much want to see investigated.
“Willing subservience to the presidency is not the mark of a legislative branch that has any meaningful sense of self-respect, or any real understanding of its constitutional role.”
It’s a strange contradiction: Senators do not want for self-respect. If anything, the individual members of that august collection of a hundred self-identified future presidents and vice presidents suffer from excessive self-regard at levels that are frequently embarrassing and occasionally delusional. Look into the eyes of John Kerry or Joe Biden and consider for a moment the political incubator that hatched such specimens of Miltonic-Luciferian self-importance. But the Senate, and Congress as a whole, have been experiencing something of a crisis of confidence in recent decades. Our constitutional order makes Congress the effective seat of domestic governance: Only Congress can appropriate funds; only Congress can tax. Spending bills must originate in the House, presidential appointments are subject to Senate approval. Only Congress can coin money. And while the Constitution entrusts the president with some important powers regarding such outward-directed issues as military engagements, only Congress can declare war or ratify a treaty.
In theory, only Congress can make a law. But Congress of late has eroded its own legislative monopoly. The Affordable Care Act, to take one example, is not so much a legislative program as an enabling act, a vast collection of “the secretary shall”s that amounts to the legislative branch’s asking the executive branch to come up with a law so that Congress does not have to. Congress sometimes delegates its legislative powers intentionally, and sometimes it sits quietly while the executive branch simply arrogates congressional powers to itself, as the Environmental Protection Agency has done under the Clean Air Act. This happens in part because Congress is timid and lazy, disinclined to do the hard work of legislating — especially when there is no political incentive to do so. It also happens because Congress frequently likes the results: If the EPA enacts policies that congressional Democrats want to see enacted and saves them the difficulty of facing voters who disapprove of such policies, so much the better. The EPA is not up for reelection every two years. Or ever.
Members of the legislative branch understand that voters have limited spans of attention, a fact that may equal presidential ambition as a force behind our ever-more-imperial and ever-more-imperious executive. The presidency is relatively easy to follow: There’s just the one guy (how many Americans could name the complete Cabinet?), whereas there are hundreds of people in Congress, and all those committees and subcommittees, reconciliation, procedural votes, etc. In a sense, all eyes are on the presidency for the same reason that the Twilight books outsell the works of William Shakespeare or James Joyce: Compared to the 535 members of Congress and the seemingly endless permutations of them, one man is a neurologically bite-sized morsel….Read the rest >>
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent and the author of The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.
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- Obama, Deportations, and the Rule of Law (commentarymagazine.com)
- Kevin Williamson: More on Morons in the Senate (ruthfullyyours.com)
- Wonkbook: Can Democrats find the right message on Obamacare? (washingtonpost.com)
- Will’s Take: Congress ‘Has Been a Weak Rival’ to Executive Branch (ivoter.com)
- How five Colorado Democrats may have paved the way for Congress to sue the administration (dailycaller.com)
- Dems Back Executive Oversight Bill, Still Think Executive Overreach Is Okay Sometimes (nationalreview.com)
- Team Obama’s staggering, scary assault on our Constitution (oddonion.com)
- Congress: This Time It’s Personal | National Review Online (rightcoast.typepad.com)