Remaking Congress: Back to Basics.

Author:Yeatman, William
Position:NATIONAL AFFAIRS
 
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IN CONTEMPORARY U.S. government, the presidency is dominating Congress in our system of separate-but-competing branches. This constitutional imbalance is a growing threat to liberty, and the only solution is to make Congress great again.

Let us start with first principles: the Constitution sets forth our governmental structure in its first three Articles. Article I establishes Congress. Article II creates the presidency. Article III renders the Supreme Court.

Did you notice that Congress is No. 1? That is not by accident. The Founding Fathers took it for granted that Congress is first among equals within our tripartite government. Indeed, the Founders feared Congress most of all. In Federalist 47, James Madison worried that Congress' "impetuous vortex" would swallow up the authority wielded by its coordinate branches. Ultimately, the Founders feared most the concentration of power, which Madison described as being the "very definition of tyranny."

For much of its history, Congress has lived up to these expectations. Now, however, our once-grand legislature is a shell of its former self. With respect to current events, the best evidence of Congress' fall is the impeachment debacle. The Founding Fathers intended impeachment to be Congress' ultimate weapon in a permanent competition with the presidency. In Federalist 66, Alexander Hamilton wrote that impeachment is Congress' "essential check" on "encroachments" by the executive branch.

In accordance with these expectations, past impeachments have been part and parcel of structural battles between Congress and the presidency. Consider Pres. Richard Nixon. Sure, Congress put him through the impeachment wringer, but lawmakers also enacted reforms to shift the balance of power towards Congress. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, for example, beefed up congressional staff and resources, and the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974 attempted to reassert Congress' power over the purse.

Similarly, the 19th-century impeachment of Pres. Andrew Johnson was enmeshed within a larger struggle between the elected branches of government.

Today's impeachment of Pres. Donald Trump, by contrast, has nothing to do with checking executive power. Instead, it is all about winning the presidency on behalf of the two political parties. Getting two-thirds of the Senate to go along with removing Pres. Trump was never going to happen, so instead House Democrats are using the impeachment inquiry to sway next November's vote.

For their part, Senate Republicans are embracing a trial, reportedly in the hope that a drawn-out process will keep Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate off the campaign trail during the crucial first primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, neither the House nor Senate currently is trying to enact substantive reforms that would rein in executive overreach. Rather than...

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