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Introduction Congress and the Cycle of Ambivalence I voted for it [the Patriot Act in 2001]. I have come to wish I had not. —Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), 2005 It was a mistake; I regret my vote [for the Iraq War]. I regret not realizing how incompetent [the Bush administration] would be. The president did not level with us. And if I had known it, I would never have voted to give him that authority in the first place. —Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), 2007 So, in a sense, we have a political gun at our heads that we can’t afford to say that we know better. —Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), 2008, on pressure to pass Secretary Paulson’s emergency bank bailout/rescue proposal Congress does not have a clear and consistent place in the separation of powers system. Sometimes members describe their own institution as having a pathological inability to deal with an important national issue and opt to suppress normal legislative processes and/or delegate power to another institution.At other times, members say that they regret their vote to sacrifice congressional power—or otherwise want to revisit the policy—because they do not approve of how the delegated powers were used later. As the epigraphs to this introduction imply, the George W. Bush years were especially difficult for Congress.However,these patterns of legislative give-and-take are also visible in recent decades of peacetime military and international trade policy under a variety of political and policy circumstances. While the George W. Bush era’s bookends of September 11, 2001, and the sudden economic crisis of 2008 provide an especially dramatic window through which to view Congress’s identity crisis, the legislative rhythms and rhetoric behind delegation and its complex aftereffects have much deeper roots. 2 CONGRESSIONAL AMBIVALENCE This book shows how and why Congress is particularly ambivalent about delegating authority on issues that address the “national interest” but have profound local policy and electoral consequences. This institutional ambivalence is reflected in a cycle that has different permutations in each area but that generally follows a pattern of delegation of power, followed by expressions of regret in various direct and indirect ways, followed often by more delegation. In the first part of the cycle, members of the House and Senate vote to give up member, committee, and/ or majority party power over policymaking. During this time, members openly discuss Congress’s strengths and weaknesses in dealing with the policy dilemma at hand as well as the merits of the traditional legislative process, allowing Congress to delay, change, and deliberate over different alternatives. In the second part of the cycle, months or years later, after the delegation has expired or in a critical reaction to the president or some other entity’s use of the delegated power, individual members launch a barrage of attempts to oversee, delay, or undermine the decisions that stem from the delegation. Yet these efforts (sometimes symbolic , sometimes substantive) to recalibrate power usually have limited or temporary success. In the third part of the cycle, when a new iteration of the same policy problem resurfaces, if there is sufficient executive branch pressure, members opt to delegate power again. There are multiple driving forces behind each part of the cycle of ambivalence. Delegation has multiple causes and explanations, as we see in the above epigraphs and in the following quotations: Why do we have the base realignment and closure process at all? The reason is that for years and years, this Congress . . . put parochial pork-barrel interests ahead of national defense interests and prevented the Defense Department from doing what needed to be done and close obsolete military bases. Members can covet [legislative trade] power and not use it, or we can sensibly delegate it, with the clear ability to bring it back if necessary, and enter into bilateral, multilateral, and world trade arrangements which clearly benefit all Americans.1 In 1994 Representative Thomas Andrews (D-ME) denigrated members’ narrow representative and electoral compulsions to protect military Introduction 3 bases in their district, and in 2002 Representative Bill Thomas (R-CA) articulated a more strategic hope for delegation, by which power can be given to the president to perform certain tasks on international trade but then yanked back to Congress on demand. But regret and anguish surfaced as well,as Senators Byrd and Biden indirectly refuted Representative Thomas’s argument that the delegation of power is all that controllable and lamented their...


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