When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, it was widely hailed as a revolution. Now, 10 years later, it is looking more and more like a coup d?etat that only changed the leadership while leaving everything else unchanged. In particular, the problem of an ?Imperial Congress? seems little different today than it did under Democratic control.
It is almost forgotten now how powerfully concerns about an Imperial Congress aided the Republican takeover. Democrats had controlled Congress more or less continuously since 1932. This bred arrogance and a casual disregard for the rights of the Republican minority. Even many liberals like Joseph Califano worried that Congress had gotten too big for its britches, usurping power that rightfully belonged to the president.
Republicans often cited the Founding Fathers to argue that continuous one-party control of Congress was antidemocratic. They quoted Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 71: ?The representatives of the people?seem sometimes to fancy that they are the people themselves, and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise of its rights, by either the executive or judiciary, were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity.?
The Heritage Foundation did much of the heavy lifting in raising concerns about Democratic imperiousness in Congress. It published ?The Imperial Congress? in 1988, a book that cited chapter and verse on the myriad of ways in which one-party domination undermined executive authority, bloated the budget with special interest provisions, crippled national security, and threatened our very system of government.
Republicans in Congress also published scholarly assessments of the Democrats? abuses of power. In July 1994, the House Republican leadership issued a study entitled, ?It?s Long Enough: The Decline of Popular Government Under Forty Years of Single Party Control of the House of Representatives.? It detailed all the methods used by Democrats to maintain their power from gerrymandering congressional districts to manipulation of House rules to prevent Republican amendments, from unbalanced committee ratios to the virtual extortion of campaign contributions from the business community.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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