by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This pressure-cooker existence was the consequence of Congress’s compulsion to scratch every itch on the body politic whether it was its business or not. Beginning with the New Deal, the result has been an explosion of federal laws and regulations. In 1934, the United States Code contained a single volume of federal statutes, the work product of our Congress’s first 137 years. But just 36 years later, when I was elected to the Senate, it had grown to eleven volumes. The current edition now contains 34. But those are just the tip of the governmental iceberg because they are supplemented by an ever-expanding number of small-print regulations that have the force of law and now fill 378 volumes. Those federal laws and regulations now reach into every corner of our lives, and those affected by them must turn to their representatives in Washington for help with matters that were once handled at the state or municipal levels.
All of these legislative and constituent pressures are converting Congress from an institution that could once think problems through to responsible conclusions into one that substitutes political reflex for reflection. And to compound the injury, a harried Congress now finds it so hard to focus on the messy details of new legislation that it increasingly abdicates its constitutional responsibilities by delegating essentially legislative authority to executive agencies, thereby spawning an unaccountable administrative state; an administrative state that issues letters instructing schools on who may use which bathroom without bothering with the pesky procedures that require the scrutiny of regulations before they can take effect; an administrative state in which a president who is unable to persuade Congress to do his bidding now reaches for pen and phone to do his will.
In my view, the serious problems we face these days are in major part the result of our abandonment of the Constitution’s limits on federal authority.