In the February 18, 2021 edition of Letters from an American Heather Cox Richardson IDs enduring and critical questions.
There are two big questions the Biden administration is going to have to negotiate. One is the conflict between the constitutional role of Congress and the increasingly powerful presidency. In our system, it is Congress that is supposed to pass the nation’s laws. The president’s job is to make sure the laws are executed. But the presidency has taken on more and more power since at least the time of Richard Nixon’s administration, using the president’s direction of the executive branch to determine where the money Congress appropriates goes, for example, and sending troops to engage in military actions without a congressional declaration of war. …
You could be excused if you perceive nothing new here. Cox Richardson observes that “As the Senate under McConnell has increasingly refused to act, more and more power has flowed to the White House.”
Biden is an institutionalist who values the role of Congress—he was, after all, a senator for more than 35 years– and yet the refusal of Senate Republicans to agree to any Democratic legislation means that he has launched his presidency with a sweeping range of executive actions. This runs the risk of alienating not only Republicans, but also those of his supporters who worry about the concentration of power in the presidency. His apparent refusal to use an executive order to cancel student debt without a firm declaration of legality from the Department of Justice suggests he’s trying not to push this boundary too far.
And yet, how can he preserve the power of Congress to pass legislation if it refuses to? How can the Democrats pass popular legislation if the Republican senators refuse to budge? Observers note that Biden’s coronavirus plan is exceedingly popular: 64% of voters want to see it happen. But Republican lawmakers are all opposed to it. It’s a conundrum: how can the Democrats both preserve the power of Congress and, at the same time, actually pass popular legislation over the obstructionist Republicans who appear to be out of step with the American people?