Kaufman: Reassert congressional supremacy

Flustered by a media intensely focused on the White House, most forget it’s Congress, not the president, where the Constitution invests the preponderance of its power.

With constant drama surrounding the Executive Branch, we forget the U.S. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. (Check schoolhouse rock for reference, since schools no longer use it.)

Even though the executive and judicial branches have taken larger roles as Congress abdicates theirs, control of the upper chamber is vital. No American should want one-party rule, so a Republican-run Senate would have been splendid, but that went by the wayside. Still, a much closer House is welcome news.

A lot of the bemoaning we hear today about the presidency, and especially the Supreme Court, emanates from a Congress that outsources its work, and encourages the president to gobble more policy decision-making. Recognition of Congress as a co-equal governing body is becoming a thing of the past.

The U.S. House and Senate have abdicated their constitutional power for decades. Advocates of a strong Congress, like myself, believe outsourcing duties to the executive and judicial branches — whether on trade policy, war making, immigration or healthcare — is dangerous. It’s also antithetical to what the founders sought.

In the last half-century and certainly the last 20 years, Congress has voluntarily ceded much of its power to the administrative state. Indeed, flustered by a media intensely focused on the White House, most forget it’s Congress, not the president, where the Constitution invests the preponderance of its power.

No doubt a 24-hour cable news cycle and presidents with devoted followings, Congress seems — with the exception of judicial confirmations and occasional grandstanding follies, an increasingly secondary player. Media narratives tend to center upon the president and, if at all, solely his opponents in congressional leadership.

A fortnight after the election, Ramesh Ponnuru opined on the matter, advising we “bring the branches of the federal government to a better balance.” A key portion claims:

“Presidential power has been growing for a long time and for deep-seated reasons. It turns out legislators think of themselves as members of the president’s party more than they think of themselves as members of Congress. We are not going to see a sudden reversal of the trend toward presidential self-aggrandizement and congressional abdication. But it should nonetheless be resisted, especially when the glimmer of an opportunity to do it appears. This is such a moment.”

Considering we have some outstanding minds in the Senate, reclaiming “congressional supremacy” or at least some sort of branch equality is important. It will at least quell hysterics over black-robed masters and superhero coverage of Cabinet nominees.

Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama were divisive in part because of their big personalities. I prefer a more modest president, who recedes a few notches and doesn’t have the country revolve around him.

The elderly Biden probably already accomplished what he wanted most — to get elected. He’s an institutionalist, who can hopefully avoid woke radicals seeking to aggrandize his presidency, starting tomorrow.

As Kevin Williamson wrote just after Christmas:

“If Biden wants to heal the nation, then the answer isn’t a heroic presidency elevated to the state of a national priest-king, as though the Oval Office were the Chrysanthemum Throne. The answer is a smaller presidency led by a smaller president, who allows our legislature to do their jobs in the way that our Founders intended.”

Am I confident? Not when his edicts are already flowing, and just after the election, Biden said, “The policy team, the transition policy teams, are focusing now very much on executive power.”

Amid our national obsession with the presidency, it is easy to forget that Congress, not the executive branch (or the new “fourth branch”), is supposed to be prime within the government.

I do not write all this, as critics may muse, because a Democrat is taking power. I’ve been a small government, pro liberty man for more than two decades.