Part 2: Fixing The Problem
Essay 24 – The Legislative Revisited
“The members of the legislative department…are numerous. They are distributed and dwell among the people at large. Their connections of blood, of friendship, and of acquaintance embrace a great proportion of the most influential part of the society…they are more immediately the confidential guardians of their rights and liberties.”
– James Madison, Federalist 50
The essay on the Legislative Branch in Part 1 provided information on what the role of the legislature is supposed to be and also where we have gone wrong. As we revisit the Legislature in this essay, we will discuss how we can fix it and get it back to working the way it was intended to.
As you recall, the role of the Legislative Branch is to make laws. This was intended to be the exclusive power of the Legislature because it is the branch that is closest to the people and, therefore, the most accountable.
As the quote from Madison above suggests, the representatives in the Legislature were meant to be from among the people…well-qualified citizens who sacrifice a few years of their time away from their personal endeavors to perform a duty for their community. The idea was that they would perform this duty for a few years and then anxiously return to their own private lives while someone else stepped up to replace them.
The incentives for being a representative were duty, honor, and service to their fellow citizens. These incentives inspired a different type of person to run for office than we see today…they were qualified, respected, virtuous statesmen. Of course, as with all things, there were exceptions.
In contrast, today, winning an election to Congress is like winning the lottery. Fame, power, fortune, and celebrity! These incentives tend to attract a different type of person…the type that will be attracted to these not so virtuous enticements and the type that will choose to never leave their position of power once they attain it. Again, there are some exceptions and we can still find some virtuous people in office. The problem is that this ratio seems to have flipped.
The overall approval rating of the Legislative Branch in 2017 was about 13%. Yet, the reelection rate for incumbent representatives and senators is about 95%! How can that be? That’s because people tend to approve of their own representatives, so they continue to reelect them, while at the same time disapprove of many other representatives, which they have no control of.
That is as it should be (each district should have full control over who represents them), but there’s a larger issue going on that causes such strong, general disapproval:
The federal government has gotten involved in the everyday lives of the people, so that they are now attempting to dictate one-size-fits-all laws and mandates to people in all states.
This creates division, animosity, turmoil, and general dissatisfaction with the overall system. Of course the people like their own representative…because he/she is closest aligned to the people of that district. They would have similar values and beliefs.
But that is not the case with representatives from other parts of the country where values and beliefs will differ and conflict.
It’s no coincidence that the approval of congress has diminished in correspondence with the diminishing of federalism.
If we take the power out of the hands of the federal government that was never intended to be there at all, and send it back to the states and the people, we would see a dramatic change in many ways. The people would feel more in control of their own daily lives and there would be no reason to make a federal case out of every little issue.
How to fix it…
In order to get the Legislative Branch back to it’s proper role in our Republic, the following changes must occur:
1. Educate the people. This will probably be the first step in fixing each of the areas that need fixing. Without an informed people, the other steps that need to be taken will not be possible because the people will not understand the reasoning and the need for the changes.
2. Restore the proper balance of Federalism. By taking powers not enumerated to the federal government away and placing them back where they belong, with the states and the people, Congress will be able to focus their efforts on those issues that are truly federal issues as enumerated in the Constitution.
3. The Legislative Branch needs to reclaim its exclusive law-making powers. By restoring the proper role of the federal government to those issues specifically authorized in the Constitution, Congress can then take back full control of the law-making process. There will be no need for the hundreds of departments and agencies in the Administrative State that currently handle all of the issues that the federal government has wrongly become involved in. Because Congress will be focused on just those limited areas that they should be, there would be no need for all of these unelected bureaucrats making more and more regulations that have the full affect of law. This will not only restore the proper separation of powers, but also provide a much clearer path of accountability.
4. Restore the proper function of the Senate. This goes very closely with number 2 above…in order to restore Federalism, the states will need their voice and power back in the federal government. This will require repealing the 17th Amendment and restoring the selection of each state’s Senators to the state legislatures.
5. Congress needs to be assertive in its checks and balances powers. The checks and balances were created in the system for very good purpose. However, many of these checks seem to be only on paper or seem to be only in theory, as they are not used as they should be. The power of impeachment is an example. Unfortunately, until these others steps are taken, the partisan divisiveness prevents any hope of using such powers.
About this series:
The People Are Sovereign! is a series of 30 essays that will be posted on a daily basis. The series will continue tomorrow with Essay 25 – The Executive Revisited
To view the previous essay in the series, click this link: Essay 23 – The Key Is Federalism
To view the next essay in the series, click this link: Essay 25 – The Executive Revisited