Congress finally stands up for itself
Last week, for once, the political world focused on Congress. We heard about Nancy Pelosi’s return as speaker; the large, diverse freshman class in the House of Representatives; and the controversial comments by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.
But less attention was given to a proposal adopted by a 418-12 House vote, which created the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, chaired by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). The committee won’t have legislative authority, but it could mark a shift in Congress’s role in our political system.
This political moment offers an unusual opportunity for Congress to assert itself. The past three decades have seen the revival of the “imperial presidency,” as chief executives of both parties have shaken off the restraints imposed upon them in the 1970s. More recently, Congress has reduced its own ability to make policy and defend its constitutional role. For example, as speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich cut funding for the legislative support agencies (including abolishing the Office of Technology Assessment) and reduced the power of committees.
But the midterm elections have produced a large freshman class, mostly Democrats, many of whom have pledged to rein in the Trump administration. In the mid-1970s, the combination of unpopular presidents and an assertive Congress led to a series of efforts to rein in the legislative branch.