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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Part-Time Congress?

Texas Governor Rick Perry floated a proposal today to make members of Congress serve part-time with a 50% cut in pay. As the New York Times noted, this has no chance of becoming reality—but realism is not a threshold test anymore for making a presidential candidate’s platform. If it ever was.

Have you ever said something out loud—something outrageous and stupid-- just to hear how it sounded coming out of your mouth? Just to taste it rolling off of your tongue, to make yourself cringe? This is what presidential candidates appear determined to do now every day, either by inclination or by design.

If this proposal were enacted, it would only serve to strengthen the power of the presidency. Given the size of the federal government (even just the part that relates to national defense), we could not have a similar part-time president. The oversight and balancing functions of Congress would be compromised, while the size and reach of the federal government would remain the same.

The irony is that Governor Perry is a self-proclaimed fan of old-time federalism, with a limited federal government role in American life. The key concern of the authors of the Constitution was less an out-of-control Congress than an out-of-control presidency. They were wary of even having a President at all (there was no chief executive or executive branch in the central government under the Articles of Confederation).

So for someone who rails against federal power to propose disabling Congress (which the framers thought would always be the dominant branch of the federal government) while leaving a powerful presidency makes no sense. This would be the worst version of a federal government.

But analyzing the logic of the proposal—or analyzing much of what goes on in presidential politics-- is perhaps like analyzing the logic of the color of the sky. The point isn’t to make sense of it but to appreciate its aesthetics. I am cringing. Mission accomplished.

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