for Congress is at an all-time low, and no wonder: check bouncing,
pay raises, unpaid restaurant bills, Clarence Thomas hearings. But
I'm not celebrating just yet. Our national media normally lick the
government's shoes. When they expose part of that government for
what it is, I want to know: who benefits?
usual, it is the executive branch, which has far more influence
with the media than Congress, and which is far more dangerous to
laugh when Senators make fools of themselves on national television.
But just once I'd like to see a panel of bureaucrats in the same
position. We'd see the Senate hailed as a bastion of relative brilliance
and good sense.
pass out subsidies when they can, and do what they can to get reelected.
But for all the bumbling, fumbling, and special-interest favoritism,
their concerns are mostly parochial. They aren't designing New World
Orders, pushing anti-free-market treaties through the United Nations,
or issuing administrative law commands through the Federal Register.
That's the president. Nor can Congress compare to the executive
in number of employees, budget, or power.
1816, the legislature employed 243 people. Today, it employs 40,183.
(And the judicial branch grew at about the same rate during this
period.) That's a lot, but legislative employment hasn't grown at
all in the last ten years, and only half of the legislative branch
employees actually work for Congress.
this to the executive. In 1816, this branch, including the military
and the post office, employed 4,500 people. (The military had 190
[the troops being state militia], the post office 3,341, and the
rest of the government 938.) By 1890, the executive employed as
many people as the legislature does now. In 1990, the executive
employed three million people. Excluding the military, there
are still two million executive branch workers on our payroll.
legislative growth had kept pace with non-military executive growth,
Congress would employ 145,800 people more than three and a half
times its current number.
executive branch has grown so much that the relatively tiny Railroad
Retirement Board, an executive agency, employs as many people as
the entire original executive department (excluding the military
and post office).
legislative branch has nine agencies, the judicial ten, and the
executive 281. These are not co-equal branches of government. (See
the List from Hell.)
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison being handed a copy of this list
and told that this is the executive branch in 1992. They
might speculate that the British had reconquered us, and thrown
out our Constitution.
fact, we were conquered, but by Washington, D.C. Roosevelt II doubled
the number of civilian employees in his first five years, and executive
growth hasn't looked back since.
do we hear so much about the evils of the legislature, and virtually
nothing about the gargantuan executive? In part, because it is so
much more visible and vulnerable. It is easy to ridicule congressional
pandering, and scholars study Congress incessantly. But who is making
fun of, or even studying, the FCA, FHFB, FLRA, FMC, FMCS, FMSHRC,
or FRTIB? Who even knows what they are?
are all told about Congress's $100,000 for the Lawrence Welk Museum
in Nebraska, but the latest $100 million Education Department boondoggle
isn't even noticed it's too small.
is also far more subject to popular pressure. When the public found
out about the bounced checks, and protested, Congress immediately
closed the House bank.
executive is different. Outside of a handful of top appointees,
the gang of two million is neither seen nor heard as it throttles
our freedoms and prosperity.
days, Congress doesn't even write the key bills. They are drafted
by, and lobbied for, the executive agencies and departments themselves,
with the help of their special interests. The Treasury, the Federal
Reserve, and the bank lobbyists wrote the banking bill now being
considered. The EPA and environmental lobbyists wrote the Clean
Air Act. HUD and the public housing builders wrote the housing bill.
In these proceedings, the legislature concentrates on privileges
and subsidies for its interests, of course.
have long attacked special interests that flock around the legislature,
but not because they're opposed to such relationships: they want
a monopoly for the White House. A huge executive branch depends
on a mixed economy, which Garet Garrett defined as "one in which
private enterprise does what it can and government does the rest."
is a problem, a pain in the neck, a racket. It is corrupt, but on
a relatively small scale: petty theft as compared with Al Capone.
In every vice, it is small potatoes as compared to the executive.
there are efforts, some in the name of conservatism and free enterprise,
to make the president immune from congressional checks on his power.
This has been the goal of every imperial president since Lincoln:
a plebiscatory dictatorship.
such a man is in power, there is a concerted effort to weaken and
discredit the institutions that stand in his way, including state
and local governments, and the Congress.
House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HCUA) warned about this
in 1938, noting that the "effort to obliterate the Congress of the
United States as a co-equal and independent branch of our government
does not as a rule take the form of bold and direct assault. We
seldom hear a demand that the powers with which Congress is vested
by the Constitution be transferred in toto to the executive branch
of our government, and that Congress be adjourned in perpetuity.
The creeping totalitarianism by which we are menaced proceeds with
supporters of presidential power, said the HCUA, seem to assume
"that the sole remaining function of Congress is to ratify by unanimous
vote whatever wish is born anywhere at any time in the whole vast
structure of the executive branch of Government down to the last
whim of any and every administrative official."
essence of totalitarianism," said the committee, "is the destruction
of the parliamentary or legislative branch of government."
the Founding Fathers gave the preponderant power to Congress, they
knew the dangers posed by the executive. That's why they gave Congress
a blunt instrument to discipline it: the power of impeachment and
conviction, and they meant for it to be a constant threat. As George
Mason told the Constitutional Convention, "No point is of more importance
than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any
man be above justice? Above all, shall that man be above it, who
can commit the most extensive injustice?" Benjamin Franklin pointed
out that without impeachment, the only way to get rid of bad presidents
should be impeached and convicted when they govern unconstitutionally.
By that rule, FDR should have been tossed out in 1934. What a different
country this would be today.
that we should send Congress a dozen roses; we should vote them
all out, and elect people who would take their oath of office to
the Constitution seriously. The first act of such a constitutional
Congress would be pruning the executive branch, with a chainsaw.