When I was in undergrad a friend of mine asked me “what does Congress do again?” Given that I had already worked on several congressional campaigns, the question struck a nerve with me as I could not imagine a college student not knowing what Congress is or does. Now, the question does not seem as silly, as most of us who are politically involved are now asking the same question. What is Congress doing, and what is their purpose?
Congress has become increasingly irrelevant under Democrat and Republican presidents; this trend has been cast into hyper-drive under the Obama, and now Trump, Administrations. Regardless of a person’s politics, it is a dangerous thing for our democratic-Republic to be ruled by executive orders. As Congress has stalled and gridlocked, presidents have used executive action as a work-around. This means that the voice of the people is diluted as our representatives are more interested in partisan posturing than delivering on their campaign promises. All the while, the power of the executive grows at the expense of the legislative.
When Republicans gained control of both chambers in 2014, President Obama said “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone. And I can use that pen to sign executive orders.” That’s precisely what he did, and Congress did not use the power of the purse to stop him. Now, Donald Trump is in the Oval Office, and Republicans in Congress still are not delivering. Despite promises to repeal and replace Obamacare in the “first 100 days,” and to pass a budget that actually balances, Congress is generally absent from the national discussion and the new President is governing largely by executive actions to advance an agenda that Congress should be helping shape and drive.
President Obama rammed-through most of his agenda by executive orders, which were easily overturned when President Trump took power on January 20th. The Left likes to decry the GOP dismantling of Obama’s agenda, but Obama has himself to blame. Executive orders and actions are no substitute for Congress and the President working together to pass law that does not fluctuate from Administration to Administration. If we conservatives want to dramatically move the country back toward limited government and personal liberty, then Congress must be equal party to the policy agenda.
President Trump has issued orders to undo Obama’s overreaching orders, but the “fix” cannot be to replace one order with another. Permanent legislation needs to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, enhance our border security, and rebuild our military. Congress is essential to permanent conservative reform, and if they squander this moment there may not be another like it in our lifetime.
America now stands at a moment not unlike the Romans at the end of their Republic. The Roman Senate and Forum still existed when the idea of an emperor was first floated, but they were merely symbolic. Conservatives cannot fall prey to the siren song that the presidency, alone, is where the power resides. Regardless of which party holds the White House, the concept of the balance-of-power should transcend party affiliation. We still have a Republic, if we can keep it. Congress is the key.