The Decline and Resurgence of Congress

The Decline and Resurgence of Congress

The Decline and Resurgence of Congress

The Decline and Resurgence of Congress

Synopsis

"Solid ground for optimism as well as cause for foreboding." So James L. Sundquist views the outcome of the struggle by the Congress in the 1970s to recapture powers and responsibilities that in preceding decades it had surrendered to a burgeoning presidency. The resurgence of the Congress began in 1973, in its historic constitutional clash with President Nixon. For half a century before that time, the Congress had acquiesced in its own decline vis-a-vis the presidency, or had even initiated it, by building the presidential office as the center of leadership and coordination in the U. S. government and organizing itself not to initiate and lead but to react and follow. But the angry confrontation with President Nixon in the winter of 1972-73 galvanized the Congress to seek to regain what it considered its proper place in the constitutional scheme. Within a short period, it had created a new congressional budget process, prohibited impoundment of appropriated funds, enacted the War Powers Resolution, intensified oversight of the executive, extended the legislative veto over a wide range of executive actions, and vastly expanded its staff resources. The Decline and Resurgence of Congress, after reviewing relations between president and Congress over two centuries, traces the long series of congressional decisions that created the modern presidency and relates these to certain weaknesses that the Congress recognized in itself. It then recounts the events that marked the years of resurgence and evaluates the results. Finally, it analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the new Congress and appraises its potential for leadership and coordination.

Excerpt

The balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government--a recurrent issue in the U.S. political system-- reached the proportions of a constitutional crisis in the early 1970s, when an aggressive president, Richard M. Nixon, confronted an equally combative Congress controlled by the opposition party. That historic conflict crystallized a determination on the part of the Congress to recapture what it considered its rightful "coequal" place in the governmental structure. and out of that determination emerged a series of events that transformed relations between the two branches.

The Congress established a new budget process, giving it a stronger and more effective voice in setting the country's fiscal policy. It stripped the president of his claimed power to impound appropriated funds. It enacted, over his veto, the War Powers Resolution in a determined effort to prevent unilateral executive action that would involve the country in hostilities. It asserted itself vigorously in foreign policy decisions. It intensified its oversight of administration. It extended the device of the legislative veto to many additional categories of administrative actions. At the same time, it speeded the pace of internal change within the Congress and vastly expanded its own staff.

James L. Sundquist undertakes in this book two tasks of historical and political analysis. First, he sets out to determine the nature, scope, and causes of the long decline of the Congress in relation to the president during this century. He investigates the extent to which the decline was an inevitable consequence of inherent weaknesses in the legislative branch, examining the relation between congressional power and performance, on the one hand, and internal organization and working habits and attitudes, on the other. Second, he recounts the resurgence of the legislative body since its historic confrontation with President Nixon in 1972-73, detailing the changes in the balance of power between the branches and the limitations of the Congress that persist, and appraises the consequences of the new balance of power for . . .

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