The Rise of Congress

While there are plenty of (quite valid) complaints that Congress is dysfunctional, there can be little doubt that Congress’s power is increasing in comparison to the Executive Branch.  This is probably the most important (if least noticed) constitutional trend under the Obama Administration.  Consider three examples:

1.  The Debt Ceiling Weapon

We are about to head into another budget battle where the necessity of raising the debt ceiling will be inescapable.  While this was (and still is) a partisan innovation, the result is an increase in Congress’s bargaining power.  I doubt that a Democratic Congress will forego this tool when a Republican President is in office.

2.  The Senate Filibuster

Though the filibuster of executive nominees was rolled back last month, that device to defy a president is still much more powerful than it was under, say, President Reagan or Bush 41.  (Consider that Justice Thomas could easily have been filibustered successfully, but nobody thought that was appropriate at the time.)

3.  The Syria Vote

If Congress rejects the President’s authorization of force proposal, then that will set a precedent that will weaken the war-initiating power of the Presidency.  (A big “if,” but I’m doubtful that the President can muster the votes.)

Concerns about the Imperial Presidency, which were so prevalent five years ago, aren’t heard much nowadays.

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1 Response

  1. Shag from Brookline says:

    When at the bottom, rising may be an appropriate direction. But congressional weaponry of 1 and 2 may dig a deeper hole; and 3 may require a long ladder. Many in Congress, more so in the House, may want the South to rise again.