Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reflections of the Republican Debate: Congressional Authority

I'm starting to write this last post about the Republican debate 45 minutes before the next Democratic debate begins. It's possible that the Democratic debate will cause me to lose my train of thought, so I've got to organize my thought on this matter in 45 minutes or, well, less now. Let's get to it.

The subject: congressional authority, or the limits of presidential power, or bipartisanship. It's all pretty interrelated.


One of the most common complaints lobbed against President Obama by conservatives is what they call unconstitutional use of power, usually due to his use of executive orders.

So, what is an executive order? Basically, it's orders that the president has the power to issue in order to execute legislation and other acts of Congress. In other words, it's the President determining how we enforce the laws created by Congress. Only the judicial branch can negate an executive order if they find it to be unsupported by the legislation or if they deem it unconstitutional. So, given that President Obama's executive orders have not been deemed unconstitutional by the judicial system, the claims of Republicans runs counter to the people who actually get to decide these things.

That said, it's true that President Obama has been operating counter to the intentions of the Republican-controlled Congress. It's weird when Congress and the President have opposing agendas, and it's generally a recipe for gridlock. Congress can make laws, but it's irrelevant unless they have a President willing to enforce them. Likewise, a President can only enforce laws created by Congress. So, when Congress and the President disagree, the only things that get done are things on which both parties can agree--basically, to just keep the government from shutting down altogether.

In the Republican debate, a few of the candidates, especially senators, really tried to hammer home the idea that Congress is an integral part of the government. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, touted his ability to work with his legislature and make things happen.

Christie certainly has a point, regarding approach. Too often, I think, the executive and legislative branches of our government seem to have an adversarial relationship. I suppose it's somewhat inevitable with opposing parties in control of each, forcing any action to be bipartisan--a difficult proposition, as the parties don't seem to agree on much. However, even when the branches are united by party, there's still a lot of politics involved and some friction between Congress and the President.

Which is really unfortunate, I think. Being a member of Congress isn't easy, and it's not terribly glorious. They have a lot of people to answer to, and they can't do much without getting at least 220 people to agree with them: 51 out of 100 senators (or 50 senators and the Vice President), 218 out of 435 representatives, and the President. And that's only if they can get their work out of committee, which is its own slog. It's a world of egos, compromise, posturing, and pandering, and it's frankly a wonder anything gets done at all.

So, yeah, I don't think Congress gets enough respect. I think it would be nice to have a President who has a healthy respect for the legislative branch. Though, likewise, it helps if we have a legislature that respects the President.

That said, hey, if you want Congress's views to align slightly more with your own, don't forget to actually go out and vote in congressional elections. You only get to help determine 3 of the 535 voting members (your district's representative and your two senators), but those three people have a huge influence on our nation's direction. Help give the president something good to work with.

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