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Posted by on Sep 24, 2008 in Uncategorized | 19 comments

It’s About Time Congress Acted Like Congress

In the context of the proposed massive bailout for our ailing financial system and its troubled actors, I’m thrilled to see members of Congress — Republicans as well as Democrats — pushing back on the Executive Branch’s proposed plan.

If members of Congress, regardless of party, had upheld their constitutionally-prescribed powers five years ago, we might have never invaded Iraq or be in various other predicaments in which we now find ourselves. The elevation of party loyalties over constitutional powers has possibly hurt us more than we will ever know.

Former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards — who contributes to the same forum linked above and is a bona-fide conservative (he was a former national chairman of the American Conservative Union and one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation) — wrote a book, published earlier this year, titled Reclaiming Conservatism. One of TMV’s readers (I regret I can’t remember who) suggested I check it out. I did, and am about a third of the way through it now. It’s a brilliant treatise — and here’s a gem from page 79, written in the context of the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice, but certainly applicable to the broader scope of failures by Republican members of Congress to put their constitutional obligations ahead of their party fealty between ’00 and ’06:

What had happened was precisely what James Madison had warned against — the triumph of factionalism. ‘Solidarity’ with one’s party had become more important than the obligation of Congress to act as a body separate from, and completely equal to, the presidency. The separation of powers had taken a back seat to the quest for political domination, and Republican members of Congress increasingly looked like members of the White House staff.

No more. And yes, it’s about time. I honestly don’t care if this delayed rebellion delays the bailout. Congress shouldn’t wait too long, but they also should not act too hastily or in lockstep with the President. It’s their job to question and debate and refine … to check and balance.

Unfortunately, it seems once again that this revitalization of Congress’ rightful powers has only been possible after the re-establishment of split-party government. As Edwards demonstrates in his book, things weren’t always that way. There have been times when members of Congress have placed their constitutional obligations first, before party.

I’m not naive enough to believe the Democrats will be different — but let’s at least hope they are, if/when Obama wins the White House and his party broadens its locus of control over both chambers of Congress. The latter will prove its worth if it does what its Republican ’00-’06 counterpart did not — namely, if it refuses to rubber-stamp the ideas of its same-party Commander-in-Chief.

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  • CStanley

    I for one am not willing to take a chance on whether or not Reid and Pelosi will provide oversight to a Democratic administration. There’s one way we can all guarantee that that oversight will occur- elect McCain.

  • That doesn’t really make logical sense CStanley.

    Bush has been wildly unpopular for years now, and the Democratic Congress has rolled over for him every chance they get. I don’t see that changing with McCain, especially once he starts beating the drums of war with Iran.

    If the Dem’s had any spine, they would have already showed it.

  • CStanley

    So it makes more sense to think they’ll show spine to oppose an executive branch controlled by one of their own, Chris??

  • They won’t control either executive branch. That cat’s out of the bag. Bush had repeatedly broke the law and pushed the line way past what took down Nixon and Congress has been as soft as hot butter.

    The issue here is which executive do you trust more? Thanks to Bush and the Congress between 2000-2008 we are voting for a king.

    The only way to have things be different would be for the Republicans to control Congress and have the Dems control the White House. But that ain’t gonna happen.

  • kritt11

    Well, it was difficult for the Democrats to show spine with such a thin majority. And there is a large divide between the different wings of the Democratic party. Also, there were many conservative districts that elected Democrats in 2006, whose reps couldn’t vote with the Democrats on many issues.

    But, I too was disappointed that the Democrats did not do more to reign in the executive branch and often caved in to political pressure . There was no investigation into how we got into Iraq.

  • Silhouette

    “The elevation of party loyalties over constitutional powers has possibly hurt us more than we will ever know.”

    Oh….lol…I think we’re just about on the verge of “knowing” actually… *sigh*

    BTW, it’s not that dems “roll over” for the GOP, it’s that they all take bribes (coercion) in the form of lobbiest donations. The biggest challenge for Congressional democrats is to shelve their greed for the very sake of the nation that funds those lobbiests and keeps them in the fat. It’s not like we’ll ever get them to consider the common man and woman out of pure human decency. We can, however, appeal to their greedy natures and remind them who butters their bread; or rather, who plows the field that makes the hay, that feeds the cow the farmer milks, and the creamer who makes the butter, the truck that brought it to their house and the domestic help that spread it there for them..

    You get the picture.

    Think of the two parties like bull elk that hang together in their own bachelor herd most of the time. They get along for the most part and seem to submit to the dominant male over and over. Then mating season comes along (election time…also the time the elk rut, roughly…lol..). Former pals become bitter and hostile rivals battling tooth and nail for supremecy…in order to screw the cows once again when it’s all settled who’s boss…(what an appropos metaphor)

    When it’s all over they go back to grazing on the fat pastures, oblivious to the reality much larger herd of cows.

    We need to remind dems in Congress in their season of rut, that the old bulls that have been running the place for so long have suddenly developed a severe case of foot rot. Now they’re limping and very vulnerable, no matter how big their racks are that they’re waving around in an ever-thinning bluff. The dems have all the power now. The budget crises really is their political gold. The longer they take and more consideration they make of the common man (uh, the voter?) the less they will have to campaign and the more seats they’ll walk away with this November.

    The GOP wants rapid and foolhardy resolution? I say, give them the exact opposite.

    If dems let the weakened GOP bully them, they literally will not be men. We don’t expect compassion from Congresspeople, but we do expect them to sharpen their antlers, lower their heads and charge unrelentingly until they become the leaders of the herd in this slim and golden opportunity.

  • DLS

    Actually, I’m with Pete in wanting to see Congress pushing back. Oh, I don’t and won’t consider Congress valuable. Congress, particularly when under Democratic control, has been not an asset to our federal government and the country but an obvious lousy liability. And the Congressional GOP is not held in much higher regard (witness 2006 election results). Those of us in the real world would hardly be excited about Congress playing a role, say, if we were to try to go to the moon for the first time now rather than so long ago. Does anyone trust Congress to do anything right? Especially Democrats? Look at the vote-buying and extreme moral hazard they wish to extend to a level of direct federal intervention in individuals’ lives in the case of those who took loans they couldn’t pay back? It’s shameful and disgusting. And the Democrats have lied and been obstructionist when faced with, for example, rescuing Social Security from eventual failure.

    The answer is no. Congress is not respectable and we wouldn’t trust Congress to get anything right nowadays. But why do I like the push-back, even if it’s just being power-hungry and perhaps news-hungry? I like it because the push by the Bush administration to approve the current bailout plan without hesitation or delay, or risk unproven apocalyptic consequences, plans with remarkable power granted to those in the administration (and in later years in the executive branch to carry it out) without any serious checks or balances, makes no sense.

    Fortunately, Congress will have to approve whatever will be undertaken (more or less — bypassing Congress may yet be attempted by the Bush people) and so Congress retains the power it should have here, at least a brake on excess with the rush-to-approval we’re seeing with this plan. (“Don’t analyze it, don’t discuss it, don’t question it, just hurry up and approve it or we will experience an economic catastrophe!”) That’s why I like the push-back.

  • kritt11

    CS- It would be nice to see you admit that the GOP acted like a rubber stamp for 6 years before the Democrats won back the majority. At least there are more divisions in the Democratic party than there were in the Republican party during that time. That party unity was bad for the country and enabled the Democratic takeover in ’06, because the ads just had to tie the representative’s voting record in with Bush.

  • jchem

    Congress’ only concern at the moment is who needs to take ownership:

    This was touched upon yesterday. Neither side wants to do anything because they are absolutely terrified of the unknown fallout. The Hill article says it best:

    “Both sides have their eyes on the looming election and are trying to determine which is worse: voting for a $700 billion bailout for the pinstripe set, or taking the blame for the doomsday scenario that Paulson laid out for congressional leaders last week.”

    On the ‘looming election’? What about the ‘economic crisis’? Way to go ‘leaders’ in Congress. I’m so happy you want to wait and see what the other side will do. They might as well adjourn early, go home, campaign, and start up with this after they are all reelected again…I’m not sure if that 10% approval rating (or however pathetic it is) reflects more on the officeholders or the people who keep putting those officeholders there.

  • jchem

    “We can, however, appeal to their greedy natures and remind them who butters their bread.”

    Sil, please remind them of this in the spring when one of the first things they will do is vote themselves a raise.

  • CStanley

    Chris, while I disagree of course with your degree of hyperbole about Bush, I certainly agree that the current Dem controlled Congress has been spineless and ineffective, and that generally speaking the GOP uses the powers of both the majority and minority better (their problem is as Pete pointed out, excessive fealty to party when they control both branches.)

    Sorry, but I’m just not willing to abandon the principles of checks and balances and decide to trust an unbridled executive branch. I have to believe that if the Dems fail to retake the White House, that they’ll double down on strategy to prevent another do nothing term.

  • CStanley

    Kim, no arguments on the rubberstamping; in fact before I read your comment I’d already written above that the problem with the GOP is excessive fealty to party.

  • DLS

    Now consider this:

    “By a margin of almost two-to-one the American public thinks the government is doing the right thing in investing billions of dollars to try to keep financial institutions and markets secure.”

    This is from Pew. Note that the question Pew asked involved the word “investment” in place of “expenditure” (and simply saying “the government” when referring to the _federal_ government).

    57% Right thing
    30% Wrong thing
    13% Don’t know, Refused

    Which candidate can best address the problems?

    “[V]oters favor Barack Obama over John McCain as the presidential candidate best able to address the current financial crisis: 47% favor Obama, while 35% choose McCain. Independents prefer Obama over McCain by a margin of 44% to 30%, while Republicans and Democrats line up solidly behind their party nominees.”

    And Washington (including Congress)?

    “The government is widely criticized for its handling of the financial problems on Wall Street. Only 2% say the government is doing an excellent job and 17% say it’s doing a good job. The vast majority of Americans say the government is doing only a fair (44%) or poor (33%) job handling the problems on Wall Street. These negative assessments of the government’s performance are shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. Democrats and independents are particularly critical of the government in this regard: 38% of each say the government is doing a poor job.”

  • CStanley

    Those poll numbers are astounding. Apparently only 19% of the public gives the government a positive rating on its performance, so naturally it follows that 57% want to approve another trillion (give or take) in spending by that government, trusting that this will fix the problem that said government helped create and has poorly handled. Seems to me that there are roughly 38% there who completely lack the ability to reason.

  • I, too, am very glad there’s push back, and I’m glad it’s coming from both sides. Obviously, something’s got to be done, but this administration used up it’s “the sky is falling so give me a blank check!” card in 2003, to disasterous results. We’ve seen how this administration can just blatantly misuse billions during an emergency when the plan is not laid out with great care (have there been any plans laid out with great care in the last 7 years?). Tax payers are on the hook for all of the money squandered on no-bid contracts in Iraq, Katrina “aid” that never aided anyone, billions invested in the No Child Left Behind program that left millions of children behind, the War on Drugs that makes dealing and using easier and more profitable. Let’s take a careful, measured approach, and make sure that if we’re going to give $700B or more to help the economy, that it’s actually going to end up helping. No more band-aids, no more stop-gaps just to keep things moving.

  • Silhouette

    “Both sides have their eyes on the looming election and are trying to determine which is worse: voting for a $700 billion bailout for the pinstripe set, or taking the blame for the doomsday scenario that Paulson laid out for congressional leaders last week.”

    So that’s it eh? Only the two options for restoring our country’s financial stability; neither of which will.

    How about option three TRICKLE-UP ECONOMICS.

    1. Bail out mortgatees instead, keeping people in their homes, homes retaining their value, real estate markets stabilize, banks become more solid, loans begin to flow

    2. Make job-outsourcing subject to financial penalties; super-high taxes for employers who do so, making hiring american workers financially more desireable.

    3. Install universal healthcare pool. Employers don’t have to worry about unreachable premiums ruining their global competitiveness, they hire more AMERICAN employees, creating more jobs, creating a better tax base and enabling thos mortgagees (remember item 1?) to pay their bills.

    4. Lower the minimum wage slightly to make american workers more desireable still. With no health care premiums, people come home at the end of the month with more money than with a higer wage. Employers are happy. Employees are happy. The economy is happy.


    Ask Congress about THAT. The answer: too many of the pinstripe crowd don’t want to shop at Costco like the rest of us bums while they wait for their insane prosperity to trickle back up to them.

    Too friggin bad…lol…

  • CStanley

    Silhouette, you really ought to read the series of articles that Mikkel is posting here as a guest author.

  • CStanley,
    I’d say it’s about 31% 🙂

  • kritt11

    The problem is that the economics of the situation has become so complex , that minor fixes won’t make much difference. I don’t think anyone really wants to use our tax dollars to bail out Wall Street, but the problem is that Paulson waited too long – now its a massive crisis that has to be resolved by Congress in a week or the whole economy tanks.

    Common sense tells you that reasonable regulation would have gone a long way to avoid this disaster. The lobbying of special interests on the Banking Committees and their financial contributions to political campaigns can’t help but muddy the waters.

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