Resurrecting Congress


 

Whether you agree with their agenda or not, the Republic Party’s conservative base is completely exasperated with the Congress. In election after election, recently, it has turned up a majority, or near-majority in both houses with the expressed purpose of opposing many if not most of Pres. Obama’s policies.

It is, in an important historical sense, not a question of who is “correct”. What is important, is that the American constitutional system demands that the three branches of government be independent and in opposition if in apposition to one another, in constant conflict to produce a limited government which would nevertheless function on the basis of compromise and cooperation. The concept of dividing legislative, executive and judicial functions of government was the gift of the gods from the Founding Fathers and marked the break of the American libertarians; revolution with their cultural roots in the Old World, even in Britain where they had suffered from parliamentary tyranny..

But we have fallen on evil days. It is not the issue the talking heads generally wail about, the bitter conflict and lack of creation of new legislation by the Congress. One could make the argument, and not just facetiously, that we are better off when the Congress is not legislating – especially since the old Bourbon and Water crowd on The Hill who knew how to draft legislation disappeared in favor of the new bred of Blow Dry soulless ideologues and would-be technocrats. Their amateurish prognostication often substitute these days for the actual attention and decision-making of the Congressmen and Senators, too busy raising money, campaigning and posturing on TV to read the small print.

Increasingly the Congress finds itself a minor player as Pres. Barak Obama rides his presidential directive horse into every corridor of American life and the courts take on the legislative process by announcing constitionality by social studies rather than the letter of the law. [I just got a blow by blow description from my auto mechanic of how Obama has collapsed the used car and junk markets with Environmntal Protection Agency directives in his first days in office which make no sense whatever to the automobile industry.]

All this and more was discussed in a learned and effective manner by Christopher DeMuth Sr. in a recent speech at Hillsale College, the intellectual fountainhead of the conservative movement. DeMuth says there are three things that must be done to return Congress, as the people’s representatives in a representative republic to its central constitutional position: 1] Congress must retrieve its control of the government’s purse strings, the ultimate weapon the Constitution writers understood was the bare bones of government; 2] it must return to the Budget Act of 1974 that required its members through committee and other action to approve all government spending on a specific basis [instead of passing it off to independence executive agencies], and 3] current serving Congressmen must relearn the old processes of governing, as boring as they may have seemed, of seniority and expertise in running its day to day affairs.

DeMoth makes the argument that the instruments for doing this are all there. The problem, of course, is political will, particularly in a growing atmosphere of digital speed and activity which permits so many shortcuts to decision making – however flawed they may be.

We would add that there is a basic problem here that requires something approaching one of the great crusades for public renewal which have marked Anglo-American history, for example, the great victory over drunkenness which had overtaken British society at the beginning of the 18th century. Think the Russians and their vodka! Or there were the great religious movements led by the Wesleys’ great crusade to dump the growing pomposity of Anglican Christianity for faith – and music!

DeMuth goes back to quote another incisive thinker, James Burnham, who as early as 1959 saw this constitutional tragedy approaching. As DeMuth quotes Burhan:

“To ask whether Congress can survive is …equivalent to the question: Can liberty survive in the United States?”

That simple statement is the essence of the problem we are discussing here. We wish some of the rhetorical falderal of the current debate among the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination for the 2016 elections were taking up this cause in a direct manner. Is there anyone out there listening to moans of a battered vox populi?

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