by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Kevin Williamson writes at National Review Online that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s “very public fit” over findings that the CIA spied on her congressional committee could signal a re-emergence of Congress’ sense of self-respect.
It’s a strange contradiction: Senators do not want for self-respect. If anything, the individual members of that august collection of a hundred self-identified future presidents and vice presidents suffer from excessive self-regard at levels that are frequently embarrassing and occasionally delusional. Look into the eyes of John Kerry or Joe Biden and consider for a moment the political incubator that hatched such specimens of Miltonic-Luciferian self-importance. But the Senate, and Congress as a whole, have been experiencing something of a crisis of confidence in recent decades. …
… In theory, only Congress can make a law. But Congress of late has eroded its own legislative monopoly. The Affordable Care Act, to take one example, is not so much a legislative program as an enabling act, a vast collection of “the secretary shall”s that amounts to the legislative branch’s asking the executive branch to come up with a law so that Congress does not have to. Congress sometimes delegates its legislative powers intentionally, and sometimes it sits quietly while the executive branch simply arrogates congressional powers to itself, as the Environmental Protection Agency has done under the Clean Air Act. This happens in part because Congress is timid and lazy, disinclined to do the hard work of legislating — especially when there is no political incentive to do so. It also happens because Congress frequently likes the results: If the EPA enacts policies that congressional Democrats want to see enacted and saves them the difficulty of facing voters who disapprove of such policies, so much the better. The EPA is not up for reelection every two years. Or ever. …
… Willing subservience to the presidency is not the mark of a legislative branch that has any meaningful sense of self-respect, or any real understanding of its constitutional role.
And while some Republicans have taken up the issue with admirable vigor, Congress as a whole cannot seem to get itself very much excited about such executive-branch abuses as using the IRS to harass and suppress the president’s political opponents. But spying on Senator Feinstein’s committee computers? That may be enough to get Congress’s attention. After all, we’re not talking about leaning on some obscure tea-party peons in Houston — we’re talking about members of Congress, i.e., the sort of people who are very important to members of Congress.