Governance experts contribute to R Street study on broken legislative branch
WASHINGTON (Jan. 28, 2016) – Five experts concur that the legislative branch is broken and has ceded too much power to the executive, and they have different ideas about how to fix it.
In “Restoring Congress as the first branch,” a panel of experts from across the ideological spectrum offers short essays unified around the need for a stronger legislative branch.
“The need for such examination should be obvious,” writes Kevin R. Kosar, senior fellow and director of R Street’s Governance Project. “A part-time, mostly amateur legislature cannot compete with a colossal, full-time executive branch.”
In his essay on restoring power to the legislature, he notes that Congress enacts perhaps 50 significant reforms per year, while executive agencies issue more than 4,000 new rules annually.
Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief of Washington Monthly magazine, discusses how Congress has “lobotomized” itself by reducing support staff dramatically. He notes that the Government Accountability Offices and the Congressional Research Service each now operate at about 80 percent of their 1979 capacity, though these cost-cutting measures actually have done nothing to help shrink the federal government.
Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America, laments the lack of knowledge among congressional staff. Due in part to the same cost-cutting measures enumerated by Glastris, there is a lack of subject matter and policy expertise in congressional offices, who often turn to lobbyists and special-interest groups for information and even to draft legislation.
Jonathan Rauch, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, thinks that Congress needs to start over and rebuild the machinery of the institution. Years of ostensible reforms that didn’t take into consideration the realities of governing have only served to weaken Congress further.
Molly Reynolds, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, praises newly elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for instituting some positive reforms, like pledging to cede legislative drafting to committees. However, she notes that some of his moves have done too much to elevate rank-and-file legislators at the expense of committee members.
Finally, Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, lays out steps that could revive the legislative branch, including reasserting the power of the purse, changing the budget process to avoid showdowns and crises, reining in executive rulemaking and enacting statutory definitions of executive discretion.
To read the collection of essays, click here.