Congress is broken.
You’re forgiven if you read this and laughed out loud while preparing a nomination for understatement of the year, but with each passing day the 2022 midterms are getting closer and with Republicans anticipating taking over the majority in the House at the very least, it’s time to plan on what to do with the new power if and when the moment arrives.
Lots has been said and written on how Republican leaders should be sharpening their investigatory knives to go after crooked Democrats with a vengeance. Will Hunter Biden finally be brought to justice? And will Americans, at long last, discover who was behind the “Russia, Russia, Russia” nonsense of the Trump years?
Just as importantly, will the GOP seize the opportunity to use the power of the purse and pass legislation to address the important issues of the day? If so, the process must be repaired first. Michael McKenna wrote at The Washington Times:
“The routine avoidance of regular order and process is a cancer on the Congress. Regular order — when legislation works its way through subcommittees and committees before reaching the floor, where the entire House or Senate can consider amendments and ultimately vote — is essential for a number of reasons...
“Sunday’s reconciliation theater in the Senate was merely the latest in a long series of arrogations of power by congressional leadership. This last-minute, everything-in-one bill, deus ex machina approach to legislating is, not surprisingly, most prevalent when the legislative provisions are most controversial. It reduces the quality of legislation, disenfranchises voters, diminishes lawmakers, creates friction and produces ephemeral and transitory policy.
“If lawmakers want to retain their ability to represent their constituents, preserve their power, revivify the legislative process and ensure that Congress continues as a functional, co-equal branch of the federal government, they should commit to not voting for any legislation — from any party — that has not gone through regular order. Legislative outcomes would improve dramatically, and the ability of U.S. lawmakers to meaningfully represent their constituents would be enhanced.”
While they’re at it, all Republicans should commit to voting “no” on every bill or resolution that they haven’t actually read themselves, including the party leadership’s “priority” legislation. Good luck with that one!
I agree with pretty much everything McKenna wrote, but I also would argue that a return to “regular order” simply isn’t possible anymore. The committee system in both the House and Senate was developed at a time in the republic when government was somewhat manageable and “small” enough where members and senators could divide topics and then subdivide them into smaller pieces so as to allow for more expertise and, for lack of a better way to put it, individual care and attention for proposed and necessary programs.
Government in 2022 has expanded to such a degree that it has far outgrown Congress’s ability to deal with it. Many a commentator has labeled the national government “Fedzilla”, a reference to the mythical movie monster “Godzilla”, which was a genetically altered fire breathing dinosaur-like creature that’s so enormous it can smash and devour entire city blocks without slowing down to battle the fruitless human attempts to kill it.
You won’t actually find “Fedzilla” rampaging around Washington, yet the monster still lives.
I worked as an intern in Congress in the mid-90s, and though I wasn’t around the hallowed halls of the legislative branch for very long – or involved with matters much more important than answering phones and reading constituent mail – even then I grasped the immensity of the task of keeping track of where everything goes. Back then there was talk of auditing the respective agencies to see where the funds were used, but how could anyone – I mean, anyone – comprehend where all of the appropriations are spent?
I know what Democrats and establishment Republicans would say – delegate the responsibility to the bureaucracy – of which members are required by law to file regular reports on expenditures X, Y and Z, along with detailed accounts of how the dough was necessary and in compliance with U.S. Code statute §§ 390789073937.27907 found on page 23,102 of the Federal Register. Who reads the reports? Where are they filed? Who’s accountable to the accountants?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the most fascinating assignments I was given as a young and idealistic college student at UCLA was to select a federal agency to research and present a paper on its accountability structure. Because I'd written on the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in high school, I thought I’d have a leg-up on document gathering to prepare a treatment on NASA.
Simply delving into the chain of authority of the federal space agency was quite a monumental undertaking in and of itself, and that was 35 years ago. I ended up with an “A” on the paper, but seriously, who can maintain some sensibility about all of this stuff?
Is it any wonder why the federal government now employs nearly two-million Americans, and this doesn’t even include the 87,000 IRS agents that the Democrats’ new reconciliation monster bill will add to the top of the federal civil service pile. That’s right, 87,000 more IRS personnel to spy on individuals to ensure that every last tax provision is complied with. We’d better prepare ourselves now for those official-looking letters and postcards in the mail, because rest assured, the goons are coming for us!
As I’ve relayed in the past, I also did a stint as an intern at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Fraud section. One of my duties, even as a lowly intern, was to interview FBI Agents assigned to fraud cases to determine whether there was sufficient dirt on the accused to merit passing the case along to a U.S. Attorney to pursue prosecution. My “magic number” was set at $250,000, and this was 1990. Therefore, if some schlep out there in the hinterlands had “only” cheated the government out of $240,000, there would be no consequences for him or her. Yes, we’re talking scot-free!
Now I ask you, what reform of the “regular order” process in Congress would serve to fill these immense holes in the system? The problems won’t be solved by hiring more federal workers, expanding the number of congressmen and senators or passing superfluous legislation that will put band aids on wounds from the 1970’s that were never addressed.
You want to make Congress work again? Regular order would be a good thing but first something must be done to slash the size of government down to its essential functions at the federal level. We’re talking about getting rid of entire federal departments and sending the oversight tasks back to the states and localities where they belong.
It’s an old story, but why is there a federal department of Education? Or a department of Agriculture? Or a department of Energy? Couldn’t national policy in these areas be absorbed by other agencies and then communicated to the individual states to administer?
There are far too many bureaucrats following far too many federal laws and far too few elected officials to keep track of them all. “Regular order” doesn’t work because there aren’t enough committees in Congress to meet to discuss minute details on each congress-person’s bills to make sense of what’s going on there. There are only 24 hours in a day, aren’t there? And Congress must leave time for senators and representatives to spend weeks back in their districts listening to their people, don’t they?
The only real way to “fix” Congress is by making their task manageable. Without it, we’re resigned to introducing continuing budget resolutions every year that simply rubber-stamp and renew redundant and wasteful spending figures from the previous year packaged with some sort of built-in increase to cover inflation or whatever else comes up.
Bigger is not only not better, it’s a disaster.
It always makes me laugh (or cry?) when congressmen and senators, particularly Democrats, talk about fixing problems or “investing” in the economy with more and more and more spending, which will invariably demand more and more and more bureaucrats to oversee the new programs. When is enough already? “Build Back (More) Better”? Are they serious?
Tax receipts are already at an all-time high. 87,000 more IRS workers will collect even more taxes from the productive people of society. Higher taxes on corporations won’t mean “paying their fair share” – it will mean cuts at the companies, higher unemployment, fewer taxpayers and more suffering among the citizenry.
Want to fix Congress? Start with electing conservatives who are smart enough to recognize that we desperately need to initiate the grueling task of reducing the size of government. Before Congress can work on “regular order”, the legislative process needs to be pared down to manageable tasks where the people we send to Washington can actually devote time and mental energy to them.
Is it doable? I have my doubts. Americans focus so earnestly on the presidential election every four years because the chief executive is perceived as guiding everything else. A man like Donald Trump is far from perfect, but one grasps that it will take someone like Trump to have the political staying power and dogged determination to take on the bureaucracy. Anything less leads to ruin.
Everyone realizes that Congress is broken and most who are familiar with the institution know ways to fix some of its issues, but garnering a sufficient political consensus to confront the big problems and then turn things around won’t be easy. For the most part, Democrats aren’t the least bit interested in the “regular order” process. To them, the less Americans know about what they’re doing, the better.
Government won’t work again until it’s small enough to make it manageable. To make it manageable, government must be cut up and divided. Will it ever happen? Don’t count on “Fedzilla” holding his fire-breath.
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