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Assault on America, Day 14: What exactly does Congress do, anyway?

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What exactly does Congress do, anyway?

As the days go on, more Americans are beginning to ask the question. The border wall isn’t being built, federal employees (the nonessential ones at least) aren’t being paid and the establishment broadcast media revels in displaying images of shutdown signs, uncollected trash and other malodorous effects from the partial government closure. All along President Donald Trump’s stayed in DC to plead with his opposition to work to solve the impasse while (some of) the Democrats headed out of town to Puerto Rico for a little beach time and to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” on foreign soil. Life is rough for the ruling class, ain’t it?

Congress stews and frets over Trump’s tweets and utterances of the hour. It’s almost as though they’re petrified to act, a collection of stricken and powerless lawmakers living in fear of an unnamed and unknown alien extra-legal force. The fact is there’s plenty Congress could do under the Constitution to move this or any other matter if they so choose -- but will they?

Jay Cost wrote at National Review, “Congress is not coequal. It is superior. The notion of coequality of the branches is a myth that has been popularized over the past half century, during the rise of the imperial presidency, as a way to boost the executive’s standing in the eyes of the public...

“If the people are divided among themselves, the faction that wins a temporary and narrow majority should not have license to do whatever it pleases. Rather, it should be checked, by judges or presidents who (one hopes) are somewhat immune from volatile public passions. So, in times of persistent polarization and division — e.g., the early 21st century — Congress will struggle to reach those high thresholds for action and appear to be impotent. But just because it cannot stir itself to act does not mean it lacks the power. It means only that it lacks the will.”

Cost gives an excellent and relatively brief overview of the Founding Fathers’ views on power distribution within the federal government. And he’s right, the founders could not have foreseen the way the modern presidency evolved into the be-all end-all of American policy making like it is now. The president is ultimately elected through the individual states’ electors, a civics lesson everyone relearned two years ago with the victory of Donald Trump.

Over the course of centuries and through numerous national emergencies (self-created and real ones) the president’s powers have grown considerably yet Congress still remains basically free to do as it pleases on domestic issues as long as there’s consensus. As Cost pointed out, Congress retains the constitutional ability to override presidential vetoes, expand or restrict the executive authority in the various departments and to even say yea or nay on administration personnel.

Congress can’t bully the president but it certainly can make the executive’s life very difficult if it desires, something we’ll witness quite a lot in the next two years. President Trump isn’t exactly a sitting duck but his “pen and phone” can only accomplish so much if Congress intentionally moves to counter his aims. Again, it requires reasonable accord to do so and there just isn’t much harmony in contemporary American politics.

Of course the Constitution doesn’t mention parties, factions or coalitions, all of which existed back in the founders’ time but weren’t nearly as organized -- or as vicious -- as the partisan divide today. George Washington ended life-long friendships over his underlings’ party scheming but even he’d be shocked if he saw the country’s leaders acting the way they do now.

Instead of having Congress pass laws, the president execute them and learned and impartial judges resolve disputes over the interpretation of statutes we have complete inertia and breakdown where presidents beg the legislature for appropriations to do his job (in Trump’s case, protect the nation’s borders) and congressional leaders not only say “no” to his overtures, they run to the nearest media outlet to voice mean and untrue things about his personality.

Democrat leaders seemed more put off by Trump leaving the meeting last week than they were about his insistence on receiving the means to stem a foreign invasion. In this scenario if Trump were to get down on one knee and say “Nancy and Chucky, pretty please can you folks see it in your hearts to grant us $5.6 billion to build the barrier,” would it have made a difference? Is that the key here? Do Democrats just want to be pandered to and asked nicely to do their duty?

Constitutionally speaking the House can’t do a whole lot without a go-along from the senate and president and the senate and president are equally hamstrung to do much without the assent of the people’s representatives. They could all sit in a room and hold their breath until they’re comatose and blue in the face and it wouldn’t produce results until one side rereads the Constitution and relents. As Cost amply demonstrated, Congress has the power and authority to do whatever it wants within the confines of the nation’s boundaries… so why aren’t they doing it?

Pelosi and Schumer (and pretty much all Democrats) claim there’s no national border emergency, that walls don’t work, that “other” security methods would be cheaper and more effective, etc. -- but the media doesn’t require them to explain their positions and Dem leaders aren’t voluntarily providing the validations. Congress does the legislating but this implies there are people dealing in good faith, holding hearings, interviewing experts and writing up bills. None of this is taking place. The silence from Capitol Hill is deafening.

Democrats maintain the government should reopen and they promise to continue talking, a position they’ve hid behind for years. But…talk about what? Didn’t Trump just expose the ruse?

Congress doesn’t know what to do with it. Susan Ferrechio reported at The Washington Examiner, “President Trump's plan to use his own authority to fund the southern border wall has flipped the script in Congress, where many of his closest Republican allies hate the plan and some of his Democratic opponents seem willing to accept it…

“Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus have reportedly warned the Trump administration not to pull the trigger and said they feared how future presidents might try to use that same power.

“Democrats, on the other hand, were more willing to look on the bright side. For some, Trump's plan could be a quick way to end the partial government shutdown, which entered its fourth week on Saturday and started when Congress couldn't agree to a compromise between Trump's demand for a wall and Democrats' opposition to a wall.”

It's not to say Democrats are coming around to Trump’s barrier concept, they’re just figuring the president’s unilateral actions would resolve the impasse without them having to go on record as being for or against something so controversial in the public’s mind. Or, a Trumpian move to build could trigger a Democrat response.

Ultra-liberal Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva said, “Everything we do is after the fact, because it’s in his hands.” Establishment Republicans interviewed for Ferrechio’s story were worried money would dry-up for their own district projects if Trump went ahead on his own volition. No joke.

Why aren’t Republican leaders out front on this? Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would rather diss Rep. Steve King (even if well deserved) than devote all his resources to resolving the crisis of the hour. With leaders like this, who needs followers?

The current impasse between congressional Democrats and President Trump was years in the making, primarily because GOP leaders of the recent past didn’t act to resolve it when they had the chance. If Trump gives in now we should only expect the cycle to repeat over and over again.

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Useless is as useless does

Sometimes, often, it is better that congress does nothing. Issue: But those who do nothing should not be paid.