Don’t worry. This is not a civics lesson about the powers of Congress. There is no point to that because our government is too far gone to resemble the Washington we learned about in school. As far as our Congress is concerned, the only measuring stick that matters is how many times and how hard lawmakers have dropped the ball.
Four powers of Congress lawmakers don’t deserve
What is worse than granting powers to Congress that members squander? For starters, misusing power to the detriment of Americans who know they can’t trust lawmakers to do the right thing. For example:
1. Power to run up the debt. The power to borrow is all about debt and our lawmakers’ failed efforts to oversee our nation’s budget. This is also where the debt ceiling comes in, that periodic pumping up of partisan chests over who gets what that always ends the same way: more public debt for all of us to share.
As much as members of the House and Senate like to talk about student loan debt, credit card debt, and the other types of holes Americans dig, the biggest hole of all is dug for us by those we elect to borrow on our behalf. Don’t bother holding out hope that this is going to change. When was the last time you heard about a balanced budget amendment that stood any chance of success?
2. Power to steal our incomes. For all the money we give up in taxes, this one pales in comparison to the power to borrow money. The amazing thing is that Congress has made the power to tax more offensive than borrowing. How? By constantly complaining that Americans aren’t paying enough to keep up with their spending.
Our history began with the founders deciding that the people should have a say when government decides to seize part of our incomes. Now things have come full circle. The government never has enough money. The reason we’ve been given is that the people who already pay the most taxes still aren’t taxed enough. So we do have taxation with representation, but not all of our representatives care how much they tax us.
3. Power to ignore naturalization. Not many of us think of naturalization when we think of Congress’s powers because naturalization isn’t important anymore. What’s important is ignoring the naturalization process and finding a way to make foreigners happy even though they showed up uninvited.
Whether we are talking about legal naturalization, securing America from uninvited intruders, or dealing with the problems we already let in, this is one of the powers of Congress so laden with hot buttons, flawed action, and no action that it should be taken away altogether. No matter what the people would decide if we ever got our hands on the U.S. immigration system, it would be better than the embarrassment we have.
4. Power to ruin the post office. What does it cost to mail a letter? Who remembers? We gave Congress the power to run a post office many of us don’t have any use for. Like a lot of the other things we give our trusted representatives the power to oversee, the post office is broke.
Three powers of Congress that fail us in front of the world
5. Power to disregard offenses against the law of nations. Like so many Obama administration scandals, the Benghazi tragedy is dying away quietly. American deaths remain unanswered and unavenged. When we do respond to something like Benghazi, treaties don’t matter much because our focus is on doing as little as officials can get away with. It’s easier to just bounce the ball between Capitol Hill and the White House.
6. Power to refuse to declare war. One of the most important powers of Congress is the power to declare war. Not too many lawmakers have a taste for that much responsibility (see: How Does a Powerful Nation Deny Responsibility?). Even those who voiced concerns about Obama’s executive actions against ISIS didn’t push the issue of war, though the president’s insistence that our troops get out of Iraq will probably result in one.
7. Power to neglect armies. Do we still need to measure our military force by headcount? Do we need a big military if we’re not going to use it? We know where Obama stands. That’s how we got where we are in Iraq and probably a good part of the reason we are being tested by China and Russia.
Congress is more interested in campaigning than deciding the issue of how far the White House should go before lawmakers have to decide on the inevitable Mideast ground war. If we ignore the issue long enough, we won’t need to worry about boots on the ground because the cancer of extremism will have spread too far. The Democratic dream of slashing the defense budget so we can spend on other things will finally be realized.
The power Congress doesn’t use
8. Power to keep bad leaders in office. Impeachment is the enforcement power everyone talks about but Congress doesn’t use. Conservative forums and blogs are awash in demands to impeach our current president. We need to remember that even when Congress goes the extra mile, like it did with Clinton and Nixon, no one was removed from office. Clinton stayed and Nixon did the right thing.
Of all the powers of Congress, impeachment is the one we can do something about. That doesn’t mean the people should have the power to impeach. It means we need to make sure that the officials we elect aren’t the caliber of politician we’ll need to worry about removing. That’s where our power lies.