CONSTITUTION WATCH - Bruce Fein, constitutional law specialist who has testified before Congress approximately 200 times, calls Congress “an inkblot.” Let’s see if he is exaggerating.
- Congress has abdicated its duties and constitutional authorities to the president regardless of party affiliation. Presidents start wars, spend unauthorized money recklessly, defy congressional subpoenas, snoop unlawfully on their citizens, and lazily enforce the laws against corporate outlaws flouting the status of an indifferent Congress.
- Since 1992, Congress has let the Pentagon violate a federal law requiring all federal departments to provide auditable data for its annual budget. By far the DOD has the largest operational budget in Washington and it is ridden with waste and is unauditable, thanks to a weak-willed Congress.
- To evade its responsibility under the Constitution’s Declare War Clause, Congress resorts to Overseas Contingency Operations, a slush fund for the Pentagon to fight undeclared wars with tens of billions of dollars in discretionary funds. This is abdication big time!
There are 535 senators and representatives whose names are known. They embody the most powerful legislature in the world and can remedy, diminish, or prevent scores of injustices by lawmaking and oversight of the executive and judicial branches.
- Congress doesn’t conduct hearings or broadly investigate “forever” White House wars to determine changes in policies or to stop such wars as it finally did with the Vietnam War. Then, Congress simply cut off the money.
- Congress is less accessible to citizens’ calls, letters, and emails on policy matters than ever. Yet many members of Congress and Hill staffers become closer to corporate lobbyists who write drafts of legislation before taking members for a wine and dine with campaign cash flowing before and after.
- Congress starves the IRS budget leaving one trillion dollars a year in uncollected taxes according to IRS chief Charles Rettig. If collected, this money could be used to rebuild our infrastructure needs. The super-rich and giant corporate CEOs laugh all the way to the bank. Tax escapees are feeding at the trough like never before, as Congress aids and abets tax evasion.
- Members of Congress have allowed, subsidized, and personally benefited from ravaging energy, healthcare, and financial industries. Trillions are wasted annually, with large preventable losses of life and property.
- Congress has frozen the federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, allowed corporations to loot worker pensions, and perpetuated the most anti-labor laws in the western world (e.g., the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947).
- Congress, repeatedly informed and warned for decades, allows the climate crisis and disruptions to get worse yearly. They’ve long known the future has to be an energy efficient and solarized society. Yet Capitol Hill remains stubbornly fossilized.
- Perhaps the worst abdication is Congress actively enabling the vast expansion of corporate power over the constitutional sovereignty of the people. Unprecedented immunities and unaccountable harms pose the gravest peril to our posterity. No public hearings, no update of the feeble federal corporate crime laws, and restraining the few federal cops on the corporate crime beat means Congress is overwhelmingly soft on corporate crime.
- Smug and operating in mostly safe-district silos, members of Congress will not reform our First Branch of government. The debilitating Newt Gingrich changes in 1995 cut committee staff, abolished the critical Office of Technology Assessment, and concentrated power in the hands of the four House and Senate leaders with paralytic effects that were maintained when the Democrats took over and remain in effect to this day.
We used to count on open-minded House and Senate committee chairs to conduct hearings and lay the basis for the enactment of environmental, labor, and consumer laws as well as Freedom of Information and whistleblower rights. No more, committee chairs now have to get permission from the top congressional leaders. The invisible costs to the public need exposure by a large Congressional press corps too occupied with official source journalism.
- No political institution has gamed public trust into public apathy more skillfully. There are 535 senators and representatives whose names are known. They embody the most powerful legislature in the world and can remedy, diminish, or prevent scores of injustices by lawmaking and oversight of the executive and judicial branches. Yet Congress has so lowered the public’s expectations, by fueling cynicism and always blaming others, that people do not realize how easy it can be to turn Congress around and improve our society. Less than one percent of voters, backed by public opinion can organize such decisive power for change. (See, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think).
People can start with protecting voting rights by organizing small Congress Watchdog groups (call it a hobby) and demand Congress work more than three days a week between long recesses and midweek fundraising.
Of course, I’m referring to Congress collectively. There are some good legislators who are honest and knowledgeable, but they are nowhere near as assertive and networked as they need to be, given the super-serious urgencies of our country and the tormented world around it.
Without adding to this list, it is permissible to charge Attorney Bruce Fein with exaggeration. Congress is less than an inkblot. It’s a streaming vacuum of usurpation that ignores our nation’s basic necessities and jeopardizes our future generations.
(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All" (2020, co-authored with Mark Green).