Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency

By Charles O. Jones | Go to book overview
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6
The Pendulum of Power

In his classic work comparing forms of government, Woodrow Wilson stressed the absence of organic connections between the legislature and the executive in the United States. "In all other modern governments," he wrote,

the heads of the administrative departments are given the right to sit in the legislative body and to take part in its proceedings. The legislature and executive are thus associated in such a way that the ministers of state can lead the houses without dictating to them, and the ministers themselves be controlled without being misunderstood--in such a way that the two parts of the government which should be most closely coordinated, the part, namely, by which the laws are made and the part by which the laws are executed, may be kept in close harmony and intimate cooperation, with the result of giving coherence to the action of the one and energy to the action of the other. 1

The large majority of governments continue to foster executive-legislative relations by the constitutional connections referred to by Wilson. Not so the United States, which severed the executive from the legislature in its Constitution.

The principal purpose of this chapter is to explore recent developments in congressional-presidential relations. William J. Keefe concludes that "presidential-congressional relations . . . are often unpredictable, sometimes unfathomable, and always complex."2"It all depends" appears to be the principal generalization one is led to by an attempt at fathoming these institutional associations. But on what does it all depend? It is argued here that relations between Congress and the presidency depend substantially on how each judges the legitimacy and competency of the other.

This chapter is organized to treat the following questions: What

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