the first branch
Can Congress Rebuild Itself During the Trump Presidency?

Congress was intended to be the center of political life in the United States, but over successive administrations it has seen its power, influence and effectiveness curtailed, both because of its own dysfunction and timidity and because Presidents, judges, and administrative agencies have progressively encroached on its domain.

Some Republican members of Congress hope that the unified Republican government will create a political opening for reforms designed to increase the potency of the First Branch. Politico reports:

Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Trey Gowdy on Tuesday made a forceful pitch for Congress to claw back some control from the White House under the Trump presidency, framing it as a time-sensitive opportunity to reset the balance of power.

The two prominent Republicans argued that President Barack Obama, who vowed in January of 2014 to act “with or without Congress,” threw the constitutional equilibrium between the three branches “wildly out of whack.” […]

Gowdy and Cotton on Friday framed the Trump presidency as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when Republicans could restore constitutional balance without rousing suspicions that their desire to clip the wings of the presidency is politically motivated.

As we noted in February, the problem isn’t just that Congress is disempowered; it’s that it has underperformed: “Most of the big laws Congress has passed in recent years, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, have been clunkers: the Homeland Security Act, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, the Affordable Care Act. Add sequestration to the mix, and you have a cavalcade of legislative failure.” Meanwhile, as Francis Fukuyama has pointed out, “Congress has not followed its own rules for timely agreement on budgets since at least 2008.”

Major reforms are needed—to committee structure, to staffing and to procedure—to make the Congress perform its duties competently and effectively no matter which party has a majority. Here’s hoping that GOP members follow through with their promises to restore the power of the legislature, rather than conveniently sidestepping responsibility because their party will soon control the other branches and allowing Congressional authority to continue to wither.

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