January 15, 2011

GEORGE WILL CALLS FOR A CONGRESS THAT REASSERTS ITS POWER:

Many congressional Republicans, and surely some Democrats with institutional pride, think Congress is being derogated and marginalized by two developments. One is the apotheosis of the presidency as the mainspring of the government and the custodian of the nation’s soul. The second is the growing autonomy of the regulatory state, an apparatus responsive to presidents.

The eclipse of Congress by the executive branch and other agencies is Congress’s fault. It is the result of lazy legislating and lax oversight. Too many “laws” actually are little more than pious sentiments endorsing social goals – environmental, educational, etc. – the meanings of which are later defined by executive-branch rule-making. In creating faux laws, the national legislature often creates legislators in the executive branch, making a mockery of the separation of powers. And Congress makes a mockery of itself when the Federal Register, a compilation of the regulatory state’s activities, is a more important guide to governance than the Congressional Record.

Unfortunately, courts long ago made clear that they will not seriously inhibit Congress’s scandalous delegation of its lawmaking function to others. So Congress should stop whining about the actions of the EPA (emissions controls), the FCC (“net neutrality”), the Interior Department (reclassifications of public lands) and other agencies and should start rereading Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

The problem is, Congress decided decades ago that it would rather cede power to the bureaucracy than keep it to itself, so long as it could also cede responsibility and then point fingers when things go wrong. Will that change? Maybe.

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