A House Republican task force is offering a sweeping series of recommendations to redress what GOP lawmakers see as a decades-long imbalance between the executive and legislative branches.
The fourth of six task forces created by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — this one on “The Constitution” — calls for Congress to reassert its authority over drafting laws and deciding how federal funds are spent. According to the task force, the executive branch, and to a lesser extent the judiciary, have usurped power from a somnolent Congress, which has had a detrimental impact on the country as a whole.
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“The executive and judicial branches have vastly increased their power — sometimes with and sometimes without Congress’s consent,” states the task force’s report, which will be publicly released on Thursday. “In addition, the regulatory state has grown into a sort of fourth branch, which though part of the executive has accumulated all three power — to make, enforce, and interpret the law.”
The task force offers four main recommendations, only some of which Congress can implement on its own: “reestablishing and enforcing limits on agency authority; reforming the rule-making process; exercising the power of the purse; conducting more robust oversight of the executive branch.”
As Ryan has publicly stated, the House GOP recommendations could only be enacted under a Republican president with a Republican-controlled Congress. Yet even Donald Trump or a future Republican president may not want to give up too much leverage in the centuries-old battle between the White House and Congress for power.
The report notes that congressional panels — the so-called “authorizing committees” — have failed to regularly pass authorization bills, which can be used to limit the power of federal agencies or eliminate programs. Both Congress and federal courts have also deferred to the executive agencies in implementing policies on highly complex issues. The task force called for a reversal of this situation.
“Congress bears much responsibility for the rise of this massive, unaccountable bureaucracy,” the report states. “While it cannot undo this decades-long development in one fell swoop, it should take immediate action to restore its authority by explicitly authorizing agency activity and by limiting its delegation of lawmaking power.”
The task force also notes that Congress has failed to pass all 12 annual spending bills, as stopgap funding measures — known as “continuing resolutions” — give wide latitude to the White House to determine how money is spent inside an agency.
Yet neither House nor Senate Republicans were able to pass their own budgets this year, due to internal GOP disagreements or political concerns. Failure to do so guaranteed that a CR will need to be enacted at some point before the November elections.
The Republican task force counseled lawmakers to be more precise in wording and intent of legislation, noting that agencies are free to interpret vaguely worded legislative language.
Other recommendations including updating the Federal Records Act to ensure federal officials don’t use personal email for official business (although Hillary Clinton is not named in the report); make it more difficult for agencies to issue new regulations, while granting Congress more power to block them; convince federal courts to show “less deference” to the agencies on rule-making; have the authorization and appropriations committees to work more closely together to “block funding for implementation of improper actions…”; use targeting provisions in spending bills to go after specific programs or rulemakings; force the executive branch to comply more readily with congressional subpoenas.
While many of the task force’s recommendations only require congressional action, enacting others — such as those “strengthening enforcement” of subpoenas and targeting specific programs or agency offices via appropriations bills — could provoke legal and political showdowns with the White House.
And while many of the most conservative House Republicans speak forcefully of using the “power of the purse” to force the president’s hand, the 2013 federal shutdown also showed how blunt an instrument that is, and how ineffective it can be.