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April 23, 2015
Land owners had some great news develop on the political front last week. Congress moved forward on language that would lead to the elimination of the death tax, and also moved to halt language that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to assert jurisdiction over essentially all water. These are welcome developments, but whether they get passed by both the House and Senate, and enacted by the current administration, are still long shots.
The truth is that we’ve entered that legislative stage where nearly everything is just posturing for the elections in 2016. Will we have a continued political stalemate with a Congress and White House diametrically opposed on the great issues facing the country? Will we see the Republicans gain the White House and veto-proof majorities in order to swing the direction of the country? Or will Democrats retain the presidency and narrow the margins in Congress?
Pundits are currently calling the presidential race a dead heat. That’s despite not knowing at this point even who the eventual nominees will be. The Republican slot is wide open, of course. Meanwhile, the presumptive Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton, is being dogged by some serious questions that may eventually spur a challenge from within her party.
Today’s reality is that whichever party controls Congress is a factor in the strength of the executive branch. If the president’s party controls the legislative branch, the president essentially has carte blanche to enact his or her agenda. If the president and the Congress aren’t controlled by the same party, it likely means gridlock and posturing for the next election. That’s, of course, with the exception of what the chief executive can do by presidential fiat.
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In effect, our system of government has become a series of small dictatorships, with the duration of the dictatorship and the power given to that dictator varying by the election results every two years. As a result, the importance of the presidency is growing exponentially.
The interesting part of this dynamic is that Congress has willingly ceded its power, because the prize of re-election discourages them from performing the actual job of governance. When Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, they willingly deferred to President Obama. One could argue they did so because they are of the same party and ideology.
However, the Republicans seem to be doing the same thing. The Republican-controlled Senate, just like the former Democrat-controlled Senate, is willingly giving up its governing power to avoid responsibility. And both sides of the aisle are willingly giving up their constitutional right and obligation to approve treaties by a 2/3 majority, apparently because they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) focused his entire tenure on ensuring that Senate Democrats weren’t forced to make any vote that could be used against them in upcoming elections. Meanwhile, while current Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been critical of Obama policies, he’s shown little desire to effectively oppose presidential action.
And that’s why the political focus will only grow on who sits in the White House and controls the federal agencies, which have managed to, in effect, usurp the rightful role of the legislative branch. As long as Congress is merely focused on protecting itself in the next election, it will continue to cede its power to govern to the executive branch and the federal bureaucracy.
The result is that congressional victories and actions seem to be more about political positioning then effecting political change. Until the majority in Congress decides its job is more about governance than winning the next election, congressional actions sadly will continue to be hollow victories.
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