Why Does Congress Willingly Give Up Its Powers To The Executive Branch?

Why Does Congress Willingly Give Up Its Prerogatives To The Executive Branch?

The growth in power that the Executive Branch has experienced cannot be blamed upon a single individual, institution, or group. Responsibility for the vast power the President wields in US politics can be equally attributed to congress, each President, the Judicial Branch, the media, and the people of the United States. Blame should be assigned to Congress for ceding their legislative authority and also to the Presidents that have abused their power through use of executive privelege, executive orders, and waging of war without a Congressional declaration. The Supreme Court is at fault for affirming the power of these powers ceded to the Executive Branch. The media has aided the growth in power by creating a national narrative which depicts the Executive Branch as the originator and executor of legislation. Lastly, the people have allowed the balance of power to be distorted beyond recognition by not holding our electing official accountable to the Constitution.

The authors of the Constitution intended the Executive Branch to be the executor of policies legislated by Congress. The Constitution assigned certain prerogatives to each branch for a reason and did not define the role of the Executive Branch to include competition with the Legislative Branch in molding policy. This becomes especially relevant when discussing the Executive Branch’s abuse of power when claiming the power of executive privilege.

In an article published on this website in June of this year, President Obama’s use of executive privilege to protect Attorney General Eric Holder from being held in contempt was scrutinized. Holder withheld documents associated with the Fast and Furious scandal and Obama had his back.

Executive privilege basically gives the POTUS the power to protect himself and other members of the Executive Branch, under the guise of National Security, by way of resisting certain subpoenas and other information inquiries from the Judicial or Legislative Branches of government. Although the Supreme Court legitimized the use of executive privilege in United States v. Nixon, the abuse of executive privilege has further distorted the supposed balance of powers between the three branches of government. Throughout history, the power has been claimed to prevent a President from being forced to release potentially criminal or embarrassing information tied to the Executive Branch and then the claim has been followed by producing a partial release including only uncontroversial documents that were requested.

In addition to executive privilege, the powers of the Executive Branch have grown with the use of executive orders. Executive orders are supposedly based on preexisting laws. Once signed, an executive order has the force of law and is able to serve as the basis for challenging in court. Bill Anderson, in an article posted on LewRockwell.com in 2007, describes the dangers associated with the use of executive orders.

The Constitution of the United States is a marvelous document that carefully attempts to lay a balance of power from the central government to the states and also within the central government itself. As Jacob Hornberger and others have noted in this publication, the original decentralist principle of spreading political power among the states has been steadily replaced by the centralization of power in Washington, D.C.

“While we have dealt often with the fact that power has moved from the states to the central government, another power shift has gone on within the central government itself, as power has shifted from both the legislative branches and the courts to the executive branch. Furthermore, there is an element of the executive branch that is almost impervious to change, that being the established bureaucracies, where policies are made by employees who, in effect, are tenured and who have managed to accumulate powers for which there is no antidote.

The ultimate problem comes when the White House and the bureaucracies effectively join forces in order to impose various political orders that almost are impossible to overturn once they come into force. Thus, any real balance of power has long been abandoned, as the executive branch has accumulated powers that no other branch can — or is willing — to dislodge.

The Framers, who understood that concentration of power ultimately would mean that those people who held political authority could exercise their powers in tyrannical fashion, clearly did not wish for such a thing to happen. The genius of the Constitution was found not simply in the Bill of Rights (which was a recognition of the rights that people already held and which prohibited the central government from infringing those rights), but also in the way that the powers of the various political entities were separated. The idea was simple but profound: divide the powers that the state and federal governmental bodies are permitted to exercise.

In the last 30 years the “small government” President Ronald Reagan signed the most executive orders. Reagan slightly edged out Bill Clinton by a very small margin. In the last 100 years the greatest abuser of executive orders is not even close. Franklin Roosevelt signed more than 3 times more than any President in that time frame. Roosevelt clearly acted more as a King then a President during his time in office and he certainly did not respect the balance of powers assigned by the Constitution.

Why does Congress willingly give up its prerogatives to the Executive Branch?

The transformation of our federal government that has occurred since the Constitution was ratified is truly remarkable. What are even more troubling are the changes to the structure of the United States government and transfer of prerogatives that have occurred with almost no objection from Congress. The reasons these changes have met little resistance can be attributed to members of Congress being mindful of their own self interests, rather than the future of this nation. Executive orders and privilege were mentioned above, but equally troubling is the fumbling of the power to declare war to the Executive Branch.

People are drawn to power and desire all of the benefits that accompany it once accomplished. Gaining the appearance of power, without risking the catastrophic failures that can result when powerful people hurt or mislead the people they rule, is also an appetizing situation for many. This is the situation that many in Congress have embraced. By ceding more and more of their legislative power to the Executive Branch, they reduced the risk of ending up on the wrong side of an issue and not getting reelected. A great example of this was when Congress voted to authorize military force against Iraq in 2002. By authorizing the use of force and not declaring war, Congress supplied themselves an excuse if the war did not go well. The war did not go well, and the same politicians that voted to authorize force, would later claim they did not authorize President George W. Bush to use force in the manner he chose. Of course, our current President Barack Obama did not even go to Congress to ask for an authorization of force before starting a war with Libya. It is not hard to see the direction the destructive power to declare war is trending.

The founders had good reason to assign the power to write laws and declare war to the legislative branch. There is a calculated reason why members of congress are elected every two years. This duration gives the people the opportunity for a quick response at the ballot box if Congress passed legislation or entered this nation into a conflict that the populace did not favor. It is a shame that our elected officials chose to be unaccountable to the American people and focus on advancing their careers, rather than defending the Constitution from enemies foreign AND domestic.

{Editor’s Note: This is the 14th installment of a series of articles attempting to address the 32 questions posed by Ron Paul in his recent farewell speech given in front of Congress. Check out the previous installment, Why do we sacrifice so much getting needlessly involved in border disputes and civil strife around the world and ignore the root cause of the most deadly border in the world-the one between Mexico and the US?”}

Published on December 3, 2012 by in The Constitution

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