Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency

By Charles O. Jones | Go to book overview

The reforms enacted were responses to perceived threats to institutional authority and prestige from the following sources: (1) an aggressive president ( Richard Nixon); (2) the arbitrary exercise of power by committee chairs; (3) weakened political parties and leadership; (4) limited policy analytical capabilities (particularly in competition with the executive); (5) cumbersome procedures; and (6) public and press criticism of the institution.

Little was left untouched by the reform advocates. Actions were taken o curb presidential power, disperse committee leadership, enhance party leadership, provide greater policy analytical support, and improve congressional standing with the public. Unquestionably these changes were motivated by the perspectives of legislative primacy and mixed or balanced government. Fearing loss of prerogatives due as much to congressional inadequacies as to presidential aggrandizement, members supported actions to reconnect the "chain of responsibility" and to equip themselves to meet the associated challenges.

Table 1.3 (page 18) categorizes reforms of the 1970s as responses to the threats cited above. One has to be impressed with the scope of the reforms, as well as their audaciousness (as with the War Powers Act and the Budget and Impoundment Control Act). It is still too early to judge the full effects of these changes, but we can confidently assert that they have not led to "congressional government." A balance, however, has been restored: one that encourages Congress to restrain the executive, not substitute for it.

Speaking to a conference in 1975 on the role of Congress, Democratic Senator Edmund S. Muskie from Maine warned against efforts to make Congress the whole government. In so doing, he also defined congressional responsibilities.

Let me say this about Congress, incidentally. A Congress is not a President. A Congress, thank God, cannot be a President. A Congress should be nothing more, nothing less, than what it is: a reflection of the will of our people and the problems that disturb them and the actions they want taken. The Congress ought to improve its ability to serve that function, and the Congress ought not to try to become a President. 26


Conclusion: The Constitutional Balance in Perspective

In an article on "The Legislator as Educator," former Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright offered this wise counsel:

-19-

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Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Introduction vii
  • Part I - The Separated System 1
  • 1 - The Constitutional Balance 19
  • 2- Presidential Government and the Separation of Powers 23
  • 3- The Presidency in Contemporary Politics 37
  • Notes 57
  • 4- The Diffusion of Responsibility 59
  • 5- Presidents and Agendas 77
  • Notes 101
  • Part II- Presidents Working with Congresses 103
  • 6- The Pendulum of Power 105
  • 7- Presidential Negotiating Styles with Congress 128
  • 8- Carter and Congress 161
  • 9 - Reagan and Congress 192
  • Notes 217
  • 10- Bush and Congress 220
  • II- Clinton and Congress 247
  • Notes 279
  • Index 285
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