American StudiesPolitical studies

Strengthening The US Congress

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Strengthening The US Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.

Executive-Legislative Coordination:

It should, thus, be obvious that the problem of coordinating the Executive and Legislative branches has been aggravated by the fact that usage has intensified a separation that the Constitution only implied. This happened immediately after the inauguration of the Constitution when the first Congress required the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to make his reports in writing instead of orally, which he was ready and eager to do. Since then this practice has been rigidly followed with the consequence shat the Executive is entirely divorced from the legislature and as Judge Story described a century ago.

The Executive is compelled to resort, to secret and unseen influences, to private inter views and private arrangements to accomplish his own appropriate purpose instead of proposing and sustaining his own duties and measures by a bold and manly appeal to the nation in the face of the representatives. The nation cannot stand at ease when the President and Congress wrangle and deadlock over important issues.

The President, being the representative of the nation, the generalissimo of administration, and the people’s choice, is the leader of the nation. His leadership can only be established and stabilized, if there is proper co-ordination and cooperation between the Executive and the Legislative departments. The co-ordination really means strengthening Congress itself and thereby aiming to remove the instinctive and inherent tendency of Congress to be anti-Presidential.

Three-quarters of a century ago, James A. Garfield, after a long service in the House of Representatives, declared. It would be far better for both departments if members of the Cabinet were permitted to sit in Congress and participate in the debates or measures relating to their several departments but, of course without a vote. This would tend to secure the ablest men for the chief executive offices; it would bring the policy of the administration into the fullest publicity by giving both parties ample opportunity for criticism and defense.

There are some students of Congress who have gone so far as to advocate the abolition of thy entire concept presidential government and thy substitution in its stead of the cabinet system Of government. If America is to remake her constitution, it will most surely be a parliamentary System. But this will not happen.

Some discussion on the merits of the British cabinet system took place before the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress when that Committee was making plans for the Legislative Organization Act of 1946. Walton H. Hamilton of the Yale Law School, expressed his alarm on the pace at which adoption of the British system was being advocated and observed that the situation in which Americans were placed and their needs had not been correctly analyzed.

He remarked, The clash of executive and the Congress is greatly overdone; it presents no more than a minor problem. The character of the English system is missed; the distinctive conditions of American society, which it would never fit, are overlooked; the activities which make up our pattern of government are not adequately taken into account. The life of any political system is function; imitation, especially where situations are unlike, can never spell functions.

The conviction that the British cabinet system would not meet American needs is widely held and it is believed that the presidential system with all its operational groaning and creaking has afforded a different, but equally practical and probably better adopted solution to the problem of governmental power in the United States.

Even proposals to introduce Executive initiative in legislation and to make administration responsive and responsible within the existing framework of government have not been well received. Two years after Garfield’s recommendation, referred to above, young Woodrow Wilson proposed giving the members of the Cabinet seats in Congress with the privilege of the initiative in legislation.

In 1883, he urged that President Cleveland now assume the role of Prime Minister with the Cabinet as the agency of co-ordination to accomplish the popular will And when he became President, he wanted in very truth to be a Prime Minister.

He stressed his function as the leader of his party, addressed Congress in person, and promoted and carried out a programme of notable legislation. When he faced possible defeat on the proposed repeal of the exemption of American vessels from Payment of Panama Canal tolls he declared. In Case of failure of this matter  shall go to the country after my resignation is tendered.

In 1918, he appealed to the country for the returning of a Democratic majority to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. I am your servant, he said in his appeal to the electorate and accept your judgment without cavil, but my power to administer the great trust assigned to me by the Constitution would be seriously impaired should your judgment be adverse, and must frankly tell you so because so many critical issues depend upon your verdict.

The American electorate appeared to resent the appeal and a Republican Congress was elected although many other factors doubtlessly contributed to that event. President Wilson learned eventually, remark Professors Binkley and Moos, that such a system does not conform to American traditions and apparently cannot be institutionalized in the American setting. Don K. Price, an authority in the field of Public Administration, has remarked, Perhaps only a psycho-analyst could explain America’s peculiar nostalgia for the obsolescent institutions of the mother country.

Another proposal of Congressional Executive relations has been suggested on somewhat different and less radical lines. It is suggested that ex-Presidents be given lifetime seat in the Senate. But such an arrangement is not likely to cement the relations between the occupant of the White House and Congress, though it would provide to the Senate additional knowledge of the problems surrounding it which that body might not otherwise gain.

M. La Follettee Jr. advocated for the creation of a permanent group consisting of important Congressional leader Vice-President, Speaker, majority floor leaders of the two Houses, chairmen of major Committees and key Cabinet members who should regularly meet and plan in outlines the broad basis of national policy.

Regular meetings between the Congress leaders and the executive chiefs would enable them to know one another well and, thus build a team spirit. The penalties for excluding Congress from the national council are high, says Roland Young.

Their exclusion means a continuance of the localism which are so often a predominant characteristic of Congressional behavior. When Congress feels ignored it often retaliates irrationally, by sulking, by refusing to pass needed legislation, and by passing ill-advised legislation. When Congress is nettled, it is well to treat her like a desperate woman and walk the other way.

There are cumbersome and awkward methods of obtaining information on administration by Congress. For example, Congress. may pass resolutions of inquiry directed to heads of Departments. Hearings may be conducted by Congressional Committees and too often these investigations are not held jointly by both Houses. Departmental information may be obtained by personal interviews or by correspondence of Congressmen with administrative officials.

Recent Presidents have held weekly press, conferences at the White House with leaders of the Senate and the House. The substitution of the question hour, modelled after the British practice, taking the place of the prevailing American practices, has been proposed by Representative Kefauver and Senator Full bright.

According to this plan, it is suggested that during the question hour in both Houses. Cabinet members and other key administrators should be present to answer to questions put by members. The reform, it has been maintained, would bring administrators and Congressmen together thereby removing the element of indifference that now exists. But introduction of the question hour has been considered by many thoughtful men in the United States as a sheer waste of time of the already overburdened Congress.

Walton Hamilton observed, in his testimony before the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress that two have a device here which ts vastly superior to that (question hour), and that is the appearance of the administrative officer before the Congressional Committee where the matter is a great deal more searching than it could ever be before the House.

The outcome is not clear, though the need for co-ordination and harmony between the Executive and Legislative departments is keenly felt on all sides, but within the existing system of government. Congress and the Presidency, observes Polsby, are like two gears, each whirling at its own rate of speed. It is not surprising that, on coming together, they often clash Remarkably however, this is not always the case.

Devices which harmonize their differences are present within the system, the effects of party loyalty and party leadership within Congress, presidential practices of consultation, the careful restriction of partisan opposition by both Congressional parties, and the readily evoked overriding patriotism of all participants within in the system in periods which now a days, regrettably, come with some frequency universally defined as crises.

But this is not sufficient. Congress need be  strengthened and the legislative-executive relationship urgently requires to be improved. An often repeated Suggestion is that candidates for membership in Congress be permitted to run for election in any constituency which the f ht choose, or in which they-might be chosen with out regard to residence. If candidates are thus freed from the grips of local politics, the persons elected would have a national Stature and a national outlook towards problem confronting the country.

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The Report of the Joint Committee to study the Organization of Congress (1945) called for the creation of majority and minority policy committees in each Chamber of Congress, a joint legislative-executive council, restructured committees of the House and the Senate, an increase in services and aids to Congress, reduction of petty duties that take time of Congress, and more adequate compensation of members. Many of the recommendations of this Joint Committee were enacted into law with the passage of the Congress Reorganization Act of 1946.

Another identical Joint Committee was again appointed in 1966. The Report of this Committee advocated few major reforms, but it did also recommend safeguards for majority rule and fair procedure in committees, to strengthen fiscal control of Congress,to provide added services by the Library of Congress, to lighten regulation of lobbying and some realignment of committees. A modest reform Bill was introduced in the Senate and it passed therefrom in 1947, but the House of Representatives did not concur.

Neither the 1946 nor 1966 Joint Committee proposed any bold solution or challenged the sacrosanct seniority rule. If Congress does establish, observe Ferguson and McHenry, the joint committee on congressional operations recommended in the 1966 report, it will have a device for self-criticism and self-improvement.

During the last four decades, American Presidents have acquired increasing supremacy not only due to their national leadership but also due to their international leadership making Congress more and more subordinate and subservient to the wishes of the President, who is now the leader of the only super power left in the world.

SAKHRI Mohamed

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