Reclaiming congressional power

Jay Cost of National Review Online focuses on Congress’ key role in the American system of government.

There is a tendency to blame legislative cowardice for the now expansive executive. But I do not think that is quite right, or at least it is an insufficient reason. While the Constitution nominally grants more power to the legislative branch, it established an executive branch that was ready-made to snatch power from the Congress. We have to reckon with this.

In Federalist No. 49, James Madison argued that “we have seen that the tendency of republican governments is to an aggrandizement of the legislative, at the expence of the other departments.” Wise as Madison was, history has proven him wrong on this count. One of his greatest disciples, Henry Clay, was closer to the mark in warning that there is always a threat that “the executive will become a great vortex that must end in swallowing all the rest” of the branches.  …

… I think the answer is stronger legislative parties. When Thomas Jefferson and Madison initially reckoned that Hamilton was serious about a vigorous executive looking to seize power from Congress, they worked to create party organizations inside and outside the legislature, which could bind like-minded Republicans together against the Federalist assault. We need something similar today. If we want Congress to be a more assertive entity in our government, then congressional leaders must have the power to induce the majority to speak with one voice, by forcing the rank-and-file into line. That means leaders should have the power to reward loyal members and, more important, the power to punish disloyal ones, above all by denying the most disobedient ones renomination for office. That in turn implies a stronger and better integrated party organization across the entire country — connecting the congressional leadership all the way down to county party organizations.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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