In the past week, the United States Senate passed two important pieces of legislation – the PACT Act and the Chips Act. Our Congressional leaders taking action on important issues facing the United States is a significant move forward after several years of Congress being content to allow the Supreme Court and the executive to lead the way in dealing with our nation's issues.
Congressional inaction is a great danger that places stress on our system of government. When Congress twiddles its thumbs, the Supreme Court exercises growing power in American life, and the president issues executive orders, which get immediately overturned when a new party comes into power. Meanwhile, the bloated federal bureaucracy enacts onerous regulation after onerous regulation with little pushback from Congress.
In theory, our system of government is genius. Three branches of government share power, and each one has a system in place for preventing the others from exercising too much power. Congress passes laws that the president can sign or veto. Then the executive branch is responsible for the administration of those laws. Congress has the option to pass further legislation to direct the actions of the executive. The judicial branch, whose members are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, possesses the authority to review acts of Congress and executive actions and strike them down when they violate the Constitution.
In this system, the legislative branch carries the greatest risk of angering the public and being voted out of office. All 435 members of the House of Representatives face reelection every other year. One-third of the Senate runs for reelection every two years. These biyearly elections offer the public a real opportunity to tell Congress what we think about important issues.
Even though a president could change out the entire administration when he takes office, very few ever do, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal workers in their positions regardless of who won the election. Even though the president appoints Supreme Court justices, the average voter has little impact on his decision. And once the justice is on the bench, he is there for life.
There is one glitch that has the potential to make the whole system fall apart – Congress not passing legislation. When Congress doesn't pass laws and enacts vague statutes, the Executive branch is pressured to act unilaterally, and thorny issues, which should be handled by elected representatives, land in the lap of unelected judges. The result is a bloated administrative state which introduces overbearing regulations that bring American life and energy to a standstill. But, because Congress faces the voters so often, they are afraid of angering the public, especially the fringes of their own party.
George Will highlighted this issue in a recent column for the Washington Post. He cited the example of a recent infrastructure project the state of Georgia completed earlier this year. They spent $1 billion deepening the Savannah River channel by five feet over a 38-mile stretch. The project took seven years to complete, but that was only after twice that long was spent jumping through state and federal regulatory hoops.
So think about this – Congress passed a large infrastructure bill last year that was designed to put Americans to work. However, it could take a decade or more before some of these projects get off the ground, not because of legislation passed by Congress, but because of regulations enacted by executive departments.
In 2015, Senator Mike Lee demonstrated the outsized role of the executive branch in a startling fashion. He explained that he kept two stacks of paper in his office – one was all the laws passed by Congress in 2014, and the other was all the regulations passed by the federal bureaucracy in 2015. The stack of laws passed by Congress was several inches high, while the stack of federal regulations towers over ten feet tall.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade offers a great example of how Congress acting would be in the best interest of everyone involved. As this issue has gone back to the states, we are going to end up with a patchwork of laws that will inevitably end up in a complicated labyrinth of court cases. We don't want judges deciding the issue and want to keep it out of the hands of mid-level workers at Health and Human Services. So, what do we do?
This is where we encourage Congress to step in and help clarify this issue for the whole country. A total abortion ban is unpopular, but so are late-term abortion procedures. If Congress passed a carefully constructed law that banned abortions after 12 weeks while protecting the life of the mother, a majority of the country would be happy with the law because it would have been decided by their representatives.
All of this presupposes that we regularly communicate with our representatives, so they know what we think about important legislation. We need to call, write letters, send emails, and attend town hall meetings. We also need to stay informed so we know what issues our legislators need to hear about from us.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Ak Phuong
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”