There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” –Mark Twain
I sat down to a college lecture the other day and the first words out of the professor’s mouth were, “Congress is a deranged institution.” His words reflected my long-held personal opinion but it still sounded a bit shocking coming as part of a lecture on the working of our legislature.
Presidential approval can sometimes climb to over fifty percent. Congress is universally hated. While that says much about the degeneration of Congress as a whole, it is also a commentary on We the People. After all, we elected them.
Congress is maligned as a whole, but elected in pieces. A person elected to the House of Representatives is selected by only the people of their district. Senators are elected only by the people of their state. Their district, their state—herein is the key. Legislators need not please the country, or do what is best for the country—and they have no real incentive to do so. They do what pleases the people who elect them and those who contribute to that end.
The Declaration of Independence expresses the ideals and goals of our country. But it is the Constitution that is given the task of outline how these goals shall be decided. The founders were well versed in lofty ideals, but they were also practical fellows. Their hearts were in the heavens. Their heads were right here on earth. They knew human nature.
They knew human nature endowed us with rights and that it was human nature to try to subvert the rights of others to serve our own ends. It is human nature to grasp for power and to employ power to serve ourselves. Knowing that the people elected to represent the larger population were only too human, they set out to arrange a government that placed as many limits on the people running it as possible while creating something that worked.
The articles in the Constitution concerning Congress were designed in such as fashion that a person elected to office, by serving his own interests would also be serving the greater good. As long as Congress debated, deliberated and passed legislation (this is the Constitutional model), the rocky course of human events played out fairly well.
But Congress abandoned the model and began to delegate rather than legislate. They created agencies to do the hard work of rulemaking as well as bearing the responsibility for those rules.
“We want clean air!” America cried.
Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency and told them to make whatever rules they wanted to create clean air. When America didn’t like what the EPA did or the high-handed way they acted, Congress did nothing.
Oh, Congress poured blame on the agency, but they did not step in and rewrite the rules or disband the agency—they did not legislate a solution, they simply whined along with their constituents—feeling their pain, as it were. In that regard, Congressmen/women found it valuable to help individuals in their district get special treatment with the EPA rules, thus becoming the shining knight back home.
Congressmen/women discovered win-win in an atmosphere of universal dislike. Blame faceless agencies, help your people get around the agencies—no responsibility, all the praise. Congress approval rating as a whole is in the twenties, but in the place that matters—back home in their district—it’s often in the seventies.
So we have, again and again, the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and all the rest we love to hate from both parties. And they go on, term after term, making more and more agencies to make more and more rules from which they can save more and more individual voters back home. And the longer they stay, the stronger they get and the more money for roads, bridges, schools, and special projects their district seems to magically receive.
It’s not Congress we hate. It’s the other guy’s Congressman/woman. It’s not our entitlements, it’s those the other guy is getting. It’s not the trillions spent in our Congressional, it’s the trillions spent everywhere else that are the problem. This too is human nature.
The solution is not term limits, or Presidents “draining the swamp”, it’s for Congress to return to its prime directive as laid out in the Constitution. Congress must seize the reins and haul back on the myriad of regulatory agencies and become lawmakers once again.