Congress: The Great Power Outage

By: Janice Barlow

It was pounded into our heads back in eighth grade Social Studies class (or it should have been), that our government consists of three branches, the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch. There is no need now to go into detailed explanations of what these powers are or why they are separated.

The issue at hand is, why the executive branch and government agencies are now allowed to usurp the powers of Congress. There have even been questionable cases in recent history where the judicial branch has done so as well, as in the case of same-sex marriage.  But that is a topic for another day.

The powers of our House and Senate are being stripped away.

This has not just happened in the last couple of decades. It has been ongoing and subtle. We have agencies full of officials we did not vote for. They have bypassed legislation and created regulations which must be adhered to by the public, or consequences are meted out. These are laws that are written into existence by agencies such as the Department of Labor (DOL), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There are numerous others as well. These agencies are extremely powerful. They create and mandate legislation that completely bypasses Congress. They act for their own good, and not the good of the public. There is no debate. External deregulation of these agencies can only occur by another type of odd power that bypasses Congress – that of the Executive Order (EO), which is a power of the president.

This convoluted process on its on merits has displaced Congress for years. It has caused We the People to be put on the back burner, but more importantly, it has supplanted the tenets of the Constitution. We have lost the true meaning of Balance of Power.

The freewheeling use of the Executive Order by a president is nothing new. In fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the most EO’s with a whopping 290. Herbert Hoover, his predecessor, followed a close second at 242. Of course it was a time of war, and decisions had to be made rapidly.

Another consideration of EO’s is their importance. For trivial matters, it is often easier for a president to just sign off on an action than to waste the time of Congress on drafting a bill and putting it to vote in both the House and the Senate. And that’s what EO’s used to be for. Trivial matters. This is no longer the case. Presidents create massive legislative change with them, such as Obama’s DREAMer’s Act, (DACA) and then they unwind those of previous presidencies. EO’s can simply be wiped away by the incoming president. When a Congress passes legislation however, a president is not supposed to change that legislation with an EO.  If he does, it is unconstitutional. DACA was thus, unconstitutional.

While you read and consider all this stripping away of power from Congress, meditate on this: What ever happened to the Line Item Veto? (LIV) The LIV allowed a president to review a bill passed by the House and Senate which came to him for approval, to go through each of the bill’s components, line by line and veto the parts he didn’t like.

Well, in February of 1998, SCOTUS declared the LIV unconstitutional:

The Constitution’s Presentment Clause cited by the Supreme Court spells out the basic legislative process by declaring that any bill, before being presented to the president for his or her signature, must have been passed by both the Senate and the House.

In using the line-item veto to delete individual measures, the president is actually amending bills, a legislative power granted exclusively to Congress by the Constitution.

In the court’s majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote “there is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the president to enact, to amend or to repeal statutes.”

The court also held that the line-item veto violated the principles of the “separation of powers” between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government.

This was after Bill Clinton had used the LIV to save the government over $2 billion with 44 LIV’s (same source). What makes the SCOTUS’ decision odd in the quote above, is that there can really be no amendment of a bill that has not been signed into law yet, right? A president may be amending a bill with a LIV, but it is not a yet a statute. It’s contradictory to Justice Stevens’ court majority opinion…in my opinion.

The bottom line is, when there was something that the president could do which saves us, the American taxpayers, some money, and helps balance the budget, it is declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS, as in the case of the Line Item Veto. However, when the president, by signature alone, can create legislation, and bypass Congress by acting as an authoritarian over all bodies with Executive Orders, even if these are not the will of the people, then it is apparently not a problem, and the SCOTUS stays out of the way.

Why the irony? Because too much power is being given to one person based on his own desires and goals, however labyrinthine they may be. It is being ramrodded at us, the people. We no longer have a say through representation in our Congress. Voting the “down ticket” means little if those folks we trust in cannot vote on the issues we care about. And if the agencies which we feel shouldn’t even exist can create and enforce their own legislation without congressional approval, and if the president can just sign amendments in and out of law at will, then Congress becomes the puppet institution. Where has our Republic gone?

We have become lax as a representative nation. We have allowed too much power to be placed in the hands of those we have no control over. The mid-term elections will become meaningless. Agencies must be disbanded, or the power to create rules and regulations must be stripped from them, at the very least. Let’s return our government to be representative of us, the U.S., not them, the vague Euro-style agencies and the authoritarian ruler whom we beat the air against.


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One comment

  1. I think you’ve got some good points, but I think most of our “representatives” are so busy trying to keep their jobs that they’re not doing them. Some authority has been taken, but much has been given away because everybody’s afraid of being on the wrong side of history, of being called out for their support or opposition of something down the road. That’s why the congress seems so glad that they’ve given away the right to declare war. We’ve not really done that in a long time, but we’re always at war. They don’t wanna be wrong, so they do nothing, or the bare minimum, which doesn’t work any more with impending disasters and all.

    I think they’re finally realizing how badly they’ve shot themselves in the foot in the legislative branch, fighting amongst themselves while the un-elected wield power, like you said, and they’re lashing out like children at every slight.

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