Last updated on October 6, 2021
This is not a criticism of Biden specifically but a condemnation of an ever-growing administrative state that began under President FDR eight decades ago that will continue to bypass our republican checks and balances.
As we see massive spending bills introduced and debated on Congress’s floors, we have to pause to see how powerful our federal government, specifically the executive branch, grew in the past near-century. Unfortunately, the president’s power and capabilities dramatically expanded, diminishing the role of the judicial and legislative branches in checking the president’s power. The president’s capacity as commander in chief expanded when presidents proved they did not need Congress’ approval to go to war, which is shown by the fact that the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, and Iraqi wars were conducted without an official declaration of war by Congress.
Domestically, past presidents bypassed Congress with executive orders. Bureaucratic agencies under the executive branch’s purview have expanded their power during or after times of crises, specifically the NSA’s power grew dramatically when Congress passed the Patriot Act after 9/11.
In terms of the judiciary, the process of using judges as a secondary legislature in determining a bill’s constitutionality has diminished its role as interpreters of the constitution, especially if the current president packs the Supreme Court just to tip the Supreme Court majority in his favor. Provided some situations understandably do not require significant congressional oversight, like establishing diplomatic talks or firing high-ranking presidential cabinet members. While nobody is arguing that the presidency should be abolished, especially since his role as the chief executive is vital to our republic, most correctly believe that the president’s power has become overreaching to the point where he bypasses Congress and the needs of the American people through his justification and judgment.
Ever since President FDR during World War II, the administrative state of the executive branch has increased by significant proportions. Under his administration, FDR enhanced the government’s role in the economy by creating numerous federal agencies that were directed to alleviate the Great Depression’s impact. Through executive orders, the president created dozens of federal agencies that directed financial systems and encroached executive authority over industries. Through the Works Progress Administration, FDR artificially created jobs by using government revenue to hire millions of mostly uneducated workers to manually work on public works projects.
Additionally, through the National Industrial Recovery Act and executive orders, FDR bypassed Congress by allocating $3.3 billion in government spending for the federal budget. FDR formed so many executive departments that his party criticized his executive overreach. Former New York Governor Al Smith once famously criticized the administration by saying, “In the name of Heaven, where is the independence of Congress? Why, they just laid right down. They are flatter on the Congressional floor than the rug on the table here. They surrendered all of their powers to the Executive, and that is the reason you read in the newspaper’s references to Congress as the rubber-stamp Congress.”
For the next few decades, the executive branch only grew. The United States ascended to an unparalleled and unprecedented dominance on the international stage. President Eisenhower famously gave a presidential address from the Oval Office, warning how the continuation of a permanent armaments industry and the military-industrial complex would garner unwarranted influence and “a disastrous rise of misplaced power.” Indeed, five decades after Eisenhower’s cautionary speech, the Pentagon budget has increased from $47.35 billion in 1960 to $731.35 billion in 2019.
With the Pentagon, the Defense, and State Department increasing their budget and personnel dramatically in the past few decades, the president’s military capacity and opportunities were bolstered. Even with presidents that strongly criticized the radical expansion of the government, most notably Reagan, the government’s military spending still grew.
During the United States’ twenty-year occupation in Afghanistan, presidents from both political parties authorized drone strikes, ground attacks, and air raids with little to no congressional authorization. With this profound military strength, the president can act on his mandate, objective, and desire without a formal declaration of war from Congress or any formal check on his power.
Now, proponents for the executive branch’s radical expansion without congressional authorization may ask why all this expansion is a terrible or even notable idea? Surely, this administrative state has been able to enact change and pass policies without compromising with a partisan and counterproductive Congress. Admittedly, the partisanship rancor in Congress understandably loses the public’s trust in their legislative body and makes them believe that their actions are mostly regressive. However, one of Congress’s main functions is to represent the legislative interests and requirements of the underrepresented. The president is voted in by the majority of the electoral college, which has gone against the popular vote winner five times in history.
Even when the president wins both the popular vote and electoral college, the minority of voters are not represented by the president but are represented by Congress. Republicans in California have not gotten their preferred presidential candidate elected in the past three decades, but have elected Republican representatives in Congress to act on their behalf. Congress is a multifaceted vital organ in our republic that responds to both the minority and majority of Americans, and if the nation continues to allow the president to bypass the people’s representatives, then we will begin to see the corrosion of the republican checks and balances that separates us from the tyrannical governments abroad.
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“Betrayal of the Democratic Party.” Teaching American History, 10 Sept. 2021, teachingamericanhistory.org/document/betrayal-of-the-democratic-party/ (Links to an external site.).
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