Restoring the First Branch

Make Congress great again

The following op-ed was co-authored by Kevin R. Kosar, vice president of policy at R Street Institute and co-director of the nonpartisan Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group. In …

Free ways for Congress to address its staffing problem

Many longtime political observers agree Congress does not have enough staff to do its work. Those it does have are paid too little, work too many hours and turn over at such fast …

Congress needs to protect the Secret Service from budgetary crisis

The U.S. Secret Service is facing a major budgetary issue. Running low on funds, the agency is about to hit congressionally mandated caps on salary and overtime allowances. Unless Congress …

Presidential signing statements are declining, but why?

The following post was co-authored by Megha Bhattacharya, outreach and communications policy research assistant at the R Street Institute. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed into law …

Rep. Meadows introduces bill to lock in regulatory budgeting

Those who champion slowing the growth of the regulatory state earned a victory earlier this year with President Donald Trump’s “two-out-one-in” executive order, requiring federal agencies to eliminate …

Congress may be more bipartisan than you think

At the Library of Congress’ Congress and History conference, political scientists James Curry and Frances Lee presented their working paper “Non-Party Government: Bipartisan lawmaking and theories of party power in congress.” In the paper, the …

Courts deal another blow to Obama climate legacy

Attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases suffered another setback Tuesday, when a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated …

The limits of executive orders in environmental deregulation

The attached policy short was co-authored by R Street Associate Fellow Catrina Rorke.  President Donald Trump has placed a strong emphasis on overhauling the sprawling regulatory state. Both he …

Congressional Pit Stop: How legislative dysfunction deters young talent

Young people yearn to enact change and make their mark upon the world. Many of them, however, no longer see government as a viable arena in which to …

Are long weekends reducing Congress’ productivity?

The following op-ed was co-authored by Charles Hunt, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park. As members of Congress look forward to a potentially delayed start to …

Senatorial scrums make members into rubber stamps

Look behind every major legislative success the U.S. Senate has had in recent years and you will find a small group of senators who negotiated quietly in private. …

Policy short: Dispelling the myth that long weekends reduce congressional productivity

WASHINGTON (July 27, 2017) – As Congress prepares for its annual August recess, it's become common for observers to complain that members spend too little time on Capitol …

Are long weekends reducing Congress’ productivity?

The attached policy short was co-authored by Charles Hunt, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park. A common complaint of congressional observers—both those inside and outside the Beltway—is …

Don’t Gut the CBO: Congress shouldn’t abandon its brain

The following op-ed was co-authored by R Street Governance Policy Fellow C. Jarrett Dieterle. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks from …

How Congress can use evidence-based policymaking

The Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group examined the use of data and analyses in policymaking at the group's July 17 meeting, including exploring the challenges Congress faces in …

Letter to House on CBO amendments

Dear Representative: We strongly oppose proposed legislation that would weaken the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”). Congress created CBO in 1974 to bolster its ability to check an overreaching executive …

Under reconciliation, it’ll be harder than you think to amend the Senate healthcare bill

Changing a reconciliation bill in the Senate is harder than you think. And the reason why has nothing to do with healthcare policy. While senators are correct to note they have …

CFPB’s recent rule shows everything that’s wrong with Washington

The following op-ed was co-authored by Rafael A. Mangual, who manages legal policy projects at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this month finalized …

Problems with the ‘committee tax’ in Congress

Chairmen of the U.S. House’s most-coveted committees—the so-called “A” committees that include Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Rules, and Ways and Means—are each expected to raise at …

Reasserting Congress’ investigative authority

Whether acting as a body or through its committees, Congress has the absolute constitutional power and responsibility to make and enforce any demands to the executive branch for …

What’s in the FY2018 House legislative branch appropriation?

The House Appropriations Committee approved Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations via a June 29 voice vote. The bill calls for $3.58 billion of funding for House and joint-chamber operations (Senate-specific items are not …

The downsides of using executive agency detailees

In a previous post, I recounted the advantages of using executive detailees as a means to combat staffing shortages on Capitol Hill. In short, agency detailees can serve as …

Among House staff, women are well-represented. Just not in the senior positions.

Congress has a gender imbalance. Of 435 members of the House of Representatives, just 83, or 19.1 percent, are women, putting the United States at 101st in gender …

How Congress became colonized by the imperial presidency

Ever since Arthur Schlesinger’s 1973 book coined the phrase, the so-called "imperial presidency" has been a perennial topic of our national political discourse. At a time when the …

How executive ‘detailees’ could help ease Congress’ staffing problems

It is becoming more widely acknowledged that Congress has a staffing problem. While the executive branch employs more than 4 million people, the legislative branch has only about …

How congressional power became separate, but unequal

Recent polling shows that Americans are increasingly turned off by the rancor and high-stakes nature of our recent presidential elections. But don't expect contests for the presidency to …

Eight good pieces of news about Congress

It is not breaking news that most Americans are pessimistic about Congress. This negativity is reflected in Congress’ dismal 20 percent approval rating and another equally telling statistic that 79 percent of …

Does Congress have the capacity it needs to conduct oversight?

Envisioned by the founders as the "first" branch of government, Congress has the responsibility of overseeing and managing the other two arms of our constitutional system. And yet, …

An uncomfortable reality… Congress needs more staff

Mark Twain famously remarked: “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Although famously crotchety, he did touch upon a …

Does Congress have the capacity it needs in foreign affairs?

The Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, fund the military, approve treaties and regulate commerce with other nations. Yet, over the past century, presidents have taken …

Executive orders alone can’t create sustainable deregulatory change

Both during the election campaign and over the first 100 days of his administration, President Trump has declared his commitment to deregulation. Dubbed the “most aggressive campaign against government regulation …

Kosar talks congressional reform on The Golden Mean

R Street Governance Project Director Kevin Kosar recently joined host Michael Golden's podcast The Golden Mean to discuss the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group and the prospects for congressional reform. …

Holding the administrative state accountable

R Street Senior Fellow Kevin Kosar joined the Manhattan Institute's Oren Cass and Adam White of The Hoover Institution on the Federalist Society's podcast to discuss the Legislative …

Whither the conference committee?

The following post was co-authored by Adam Chan, a former Institute of Politics summer research assistant at the R Street Institute. Hong Min Park, Steven S. Smith and Ryan J. Vander Wielen recently presented …

Why Trump’s government overhaul won’t work

The executive order issued by President Donald Trump yesterday has a goal nearly every citizen and legislator would cheer: to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the executive branch.” What's …

Congress needs to take back its war powers in the fight against ISIS

“We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach,” then-President Barack Obama said during an Aug. 30, 2013 news conference about the situation in Syria. The former president would repeat his …

What role should Congress play in regulation?

Historically, Congress has delegated great authority to the executive branch when it came to regulatory matters. For the most part, the executive branch has had a free hand, …

How to put the ‘most complete and effectual weapon’ back in their hands

Indubitably, our nation's finances are a mess. America has run deficits 36 of the past 40 years. The national debt is $18 trillion, and it has tripled as a percentage …

Ian Adams on KVOI in Tucson

R Street Senior Fellow Ian Adams and Mike Shaw of KVOI in Tucson, Arizona, to discuss the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act) Act …

Republicans could have a regulatory ‘game changer’ on their hands

Last week, the House and Senate voted to repeal one of the last regulations the Obama administration enacted on its way out the door. The regulation, known as …

If Democrats want a less-powerful Trump, there’s a REINS Act for that

Congressional Democrats may not like President Donald Trump, but they’re not even remotely serious about limiting his policymaking power. They’d rather bring pictures of Trump’s tweets to the …

Protect Families and Businesses from Unnecessary Tax Increases: Enact the Global Trade Accountability Act

February 2, 2017   To Members of Congress: We the undersigned free market organizations, representing millions of hardworking Americans, urge you to support S. 177, the “Global Trade Accountability Act,” introduced …

Should Congress have to approve every federal regulation? A debate.

The following written debate between R Street Senior Fellow Kevin Kosar and Andrew Rudalevige, Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College, was published in the Washington Post's …

Whether the easy way or the hard way, GOP will confirm Gorsuch

Tell me about the Democrats' right to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, and I'll point to roughly 60 million Americans who voted for President Donald Trump. They …

Exit earmarks, enter lettermarks

The attached policy study was co-authored by Nicole Kalaf-Hughes, an assistant professor of political science at Bowling Green State University. Before convening the 115th Congress, Republicans and some …

Reforming the administrative state—and reining it in

National Affairs released a special report earlier this month on comprehensive proposals to rein in the regulatory state. The report's three authors -- Hoover Institution Research Fellow Adam White, Manhattan …

Strengthening Congress by shrinking the administrative state

Regulatory reform appears to be gaining traction in Washington, D.C. The White House directed agencies to halt the issuance of new regulations. Congress also got in the act. …

Six ways Congress can curb a runaway president

No bones about it, Donald Trump is a steamroller. He defeated 16 Republican candidates, despite being a political novice. Jeb Bush’s $150 million war chest couldn’t insulate him from Trump’s insults; …

R Street Panel: The expertise gap between Silicon Valley and Washington

It shouldn't be surprising that our elected representatives don't always understand new technology. Rather than being early adopters, most of them are at least a decade behind the …

Reasserting Congress in regulatory policy

The attached policy study was originally published in "Policy Reforms for an Accountable Administrative State," the second installment in National Affairs' Unleashing Opportunity series. Congress is "the first branch," …

Kosar talks Congressional Regulation Office on C-Span

R Street Governance Project Director Kevin Kosar was on C-Span's Washington Journal program recently to discuss his recent piece in National Affairs proposing a Congressional Regulation Office and …

Does Congress want to govern?

The following op-ed was co-authored by Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the political reform program at New America. Over the past year, leading members of Congress have delivered …

Making Congress great again

It hasn’t exactly been a smooth first week for the Republican-controlled 115th Congress. On Monday, House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics—only to reverse their …

Yesterday we talked about Congress reclaiming the power of the purse — a bit

I co-direct the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group, a nonpartisan gathering of scholars and congressional staff that aims to “make Congress great again.” We meet each month on …

Testimony to House Oversight and Government Reform on agencies’ expenditures of fees

I thank the subcommittee for inviting me to testify on the subject of federal agencies and their self-funding activities. As the committee may know, I co-direct the Legislative Branch …

Dialing for dollars

I agree with the conventional wisdom that congressmen spend entirely too much of their time raising money. Like many viewers, I cringed at John Oliver’s dialing-for-dollars exposé featuring former Democratic …

Does Congress finally get that business as usual should not continue?

Nearly everyone is gobsmacked by last night’s election results. But should we really be so surprised? No, because a significant portion of the public has been down on …

Is Congress getting a bum rap?

In short, yes, to a degree. Much of the work it does seldom appears in the news, so legislators get no credit. So, thanks are owed to Michelle Cottle …

House launches a public-facing phone directory for all staff

As promised at the 2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference, the House of Representatives has launched a public-facing phone directory for all its staff. This is a tremendously useful tool. It …

Congressional Earmarks: Are we better off without them?

When the GOP took back the House in 2010, it followed through on what many of its members had promised in their campaigns—banning earmarks. Earmarks are the district …

The estranged legislative and executive branches

Hugh Heclo’s "A Government of Strangers," published 40 years ago, described the very different worlds of high-level federal appointees and the civil-servant worker bees they purportedly manage. Today that …

ICYMI: Members of Congress publish essays on the state of Congress

The July 2016 copy of PS: Political Science and Politics carries essays by four members of Congress (one former and three current). This unusual and happy development was the work of Michael H. …

A case for stronger congressional committees

The attached policy study was co-authored by Adam Chan, a summer 2016 research assistant at the R Street Institute. With congressional partisanship at record highs and congressional approval ratings at …

Is the 114th Congress getting things done?

Source: PopVox.com Yes, writes Marci Harris and her team at PopVox: The 114th Congress has passed a significant number of major policies into law: from ending a Medicare physician payment …

On what does the U.S. House spend its appropriations?

The following post was co-authored by Nicholas W. Zeppos. A version originally appeared on LegBranch.com. There is a short and unsurprising answer: mostly, it spends on staff.  Personnel expenses amount to …

How does the U.S. House divide its money between members, committees and leadership?

The following post was co-authored by Nicholas W. Zeppos. A version originally appeared on LegBranch.com. In order to think clearly about legislative capacity, or the lack thereof, we need a …

Congress’ tendency to cannibalize itself

The following blog post was co-authored by R Street Governance Project Director Kevin Kosar. Why is Congress loath to increase its staff, and sometimes eager to cut it? Anthony J. …

Is the House of Representatives deinstitutionalizing?

The following post was co-authored by R Street Governance Policy Director Kevin Kosar. In an important recent paper, Jeffery A. Jenkins’ and Charles Stewart III re-evaluated Nelson Polsby’s classic analysis that …

Will Congress claw back power from the regulatory state?

The following op-ed was co-authored by R Street Associate Fellow Sean Speer, who also serves as a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a Canadian think tank. One upside …

Canada’s legislature begins to strengthen itself

Last month’s Supreme Court decision on President Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration directive was a positive development for those determined to restore the paramountcy of the legislative branch in U.S. political …

Hill salary increase proposal won’t amount to much

From Roll Call: Such expenses squeezed Nathan Leamer and his wife Amanda out of their congressional jobs when they found out they were expecting their second child in 2013, …

The House takes a small step to make Congress great again

Something remarkable happened a week ago: a committee in Congress voted to spend a little bit more money on congressional staff. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., offered the amendment …

Does America need more political dynamism?

We have all heard the railings of the presidential aspirants about the federal government: that it’s corrupt; that it’s rigged by the malevolent establishment against the common man; …

Talking it out: It will solve (some) problems in Congress

It's a new year. More than 100 new members of Congress were sworn in Wednesday and a majority of President Barack Obama's first-term cabinet members will likely depart …

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