Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Decline of Congress

Via Glenn Greenwald, Mickey Edwards, former GOP member of Congress, testified today thusly:

There are a great many salient questions facing the American people and those of you who are charged with the responsibility of enacting the nation's laws: access to affordable health care; repair of an aging infrastructure; reducing energy dependence; ensuring the national security. But not one of those issues – and not all of them combined – is as important now or for the future as securing our position as a nation governed by the rule of law. . .

Let me be both candid and clear: the current greatest threat to our system of separated powers and the protections it affords stems not just from executive overreaching but equally from the Congress. America's founders envisioned a system in which each of the branches of government would guard its prerogatives and meet its obligations, each acting to serve the nation through the empowerment the Constitution grants and to protect our liberties through the constraints the Constitution imposes.

For most of the past eight years, and for many years before that, the Congress has failed to lived up to its assigned role as the principal representative of the people. . . .

Here is the challenge, stated as candidly as I can state it. Each year the presidency grows farther beyond the bounds the Constitution permits; each year the Congress fades farther into irrelevance. As it does, the voice of the people is silenced. This cannot be permitted to stand. The Congress is not without power. It can refuse to confirm people the President suggests for important offices; it can refuse to provide money for the carrying out of Executive Branch activities; it can use its subpoena power and its power to hold hearings and above all, it can use its power to write the laws of the country.

Do not let it be said that what the Founders created, you have destroyed. Do not let it be said that on your watch, the Constitution of the United States became not the law of the land but a suggestion. You are not a parliament; you are a Congress -- separate, independent, and equal. And because of that you are the principal means by which the people maintain control of their government. Defend that right, and that obligation, or you lose all purpose in holding these high offices. That is how you preserve and defend the rule of law in the United States.


True words, these. From an institutional perspective, the decline of Congress over the past several decades, and especially over the last eight, is the most worrisome of recent national developments.

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