Restoring balance among the branches of government in Washington

First, we need to discuss the erosion of legislative authority within the evolving model of the federal government. There has been a dramatic shift of authority toward presidential powers and the emergence of what is essentially a fourth branch of government — a vast network of federal agencies with expanded legislative and judicial power. While the federal bureaucracy is a hallmark of the modern administrative state, it presents a fundamental change to a system of three coequal branches designed to check and balance each other. The growing authority invested in federal agencies comes from a diminished Congress, which seems to have a dramatically reduced ability to actively monitor, let alone influence, agency actions.

Second, much of the tit-for-tat politics that has alienated so many Americans is due to the fact that courts routinely refuse to review constitutional disputes because of an overly constricted view of the standing of lawmakers to sue and other procedural barriers. While there can be legitimate disagreement over how and when legislative standing should apply, current legal barriers rob the system of a key avenue for resolution of such conflicts. A modest expansion of standing would provide greater clarity to the line of constitutional separation without causing a flood of cases.

Finally, Congress should address the rising share of federal spending that is not under its control. Last year, only 35 percent of spending was appropriated and voted on. The remaining 65 percent grows automatically. As a result, our debt exceeds the size of our economy, and Congress is losing its critical “power of the purse.”