A good week for Legislative Branch

This was a good week for Congress. I don’t mean it was a good week for me, or for my party, or for the House, or for the specific group of senators and congressmen who happen to hold office here at this particular moment.

It was a good week for the institution. It was a good week for the Legislative Branch and everything it is supposed to represent in our society.

Why do I say that? Well, we talk about Congress a lot – what it should be doing, what it shouldn’t be doing. We talk about the Constitution a lot – what it directs us to do and not to do. But so much of that conversation tends to be about the specific policy questions of the day. As a country, we don’t talk as much as we probably should about the bigger picture.

We get so caught up in this bill or that bill that we tend to forget about the issues more fundamental to maintaining our republic over the long term. As a people, we need to do better.

The Founders thought long and hard about what kind of system to create for us. They debated furiously amongst themselves about how best to achieve their goal, but the goal itself was never a question. For each of them, the objective was to prevent the very kind of royal tyranny they had just fought so bitterly to escape.

They didn't want a king with limitless power. They didn't want to allow taxation without representation. They didn't want the seizure of life or property without due process. They wanted a government that was accountable to the people and one that had sufficient checks and balances built in to ensure that no part of the government could become powerful enough to silence the people. Most of that centered on limiting the power of the presidency – any presidency.

That issue is still alive and well today.

If you are a Democrat reading this, imagine for a moment that today’s situation were flipped.

Imagine that today’s President was now a Republican and that the Senate was under his thumb. Imagine that your party only controlled the House. Now imagine that the President of the United States was wildly and unapologetically pursuing the creation of new conservative policies that had not been duly passed by Congress.

Imagine that the President’s IRS leadership was caught targeting liberal advocacy groups and then conveniently “lost” all of the emails relating to that crime.

Imagine that a Republican president was tapping the phones of dozens of reporters in pursuit of a whistleblower who leaked unflattering information about the administration. Imagine that the Republican President was ignoring vast swaths of duly enacted laws – laws that you felt were important.

Would you accept all of that? Or any of that? I doubt it.

Now if you are a conservative, imagine the exact same scenario but with a twist. Imagine you had your very own conservative firebrand in the White House – whomever you wanted, your ideological hero. Imagine your conservative president was using “executive power” to aggressively pursue policies that you thought were right and necessary for the country.

Imagine he was pushing well beyond the bounds of the law because Congress refused to pass those conservative policies he was calling for. Would you feel outraged and concerned on principle? Or would you give him a pass because you agreed with the ends he was pursuing? I certainly hope not.

Throughout our history, each party has taken its turn in the White House. But for most of our history, regardless of party, Congress has stood up to the President whenever he overstepped his constitutional bounds.

Members of the President’s own party, though they may vigorously protect and excuse their President on any number of issues, would not stand for anything that infringed on the constitutional prerogatives and powers of Congress. But today’s leaders have not done that.

When President Obama made wildly questionable “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid applauded his decision. Sen. Reid couldn’t get the votes to confirm the President’s selections, so he acquiesced to a power grab instead.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that those very appointments were an unconstitutional intrusion on Congress’ rightful powers. Harry Reid, in a moment of allowing the ends to justify the President’s means, let the United States Senate down. He let the legislative branch down.

In doing so, he let the entire country down. I say that because as sure as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, future presidents will continue trying to push the bounds of executive authority. And every time Congress allows a president get away with it, the presidency becomes stronger and “the People’s Branch” becomes weaker.

It’s been said 1,000 times before, but power corrupts. It’s intoxicating. Every president (save perhaps Washington), has tried to push his presidency to the absolute limits – Republicans and Democrats alike.

So when it comes to the delicate but critical balance of powers between the branches of government, we have to rise above ideology. As citizens, we have to look at the bigger picture. We cannot slip into the thinking that the ends justify the means. They don’t.

And so while it may be easier this week for conservatives to applaud Speaker Boehner’s announcement that the House will be taking the President to court over the issue of presidential overreach, it’s something that I think all Americans should reflect on and applaud. Anytime Congress stands up to check the power of the White House, it’s a good thing for our country in the long run.

So, no matter how passionate we may be about the issues and no matter how frustrated we may get from time to time with our fellow citizens on the other side of the aisle, we should always remember to take the long view. Principle must always come before politics.

Every power grab we allow from a president moves us closer back to having a king. That’s not something we can tolerate in America. For ourselves and for our future generations, we are the stewards of our great republic. It doesn’t protect itself.

Rich Nugent (R), Brooksville
Member of Congress, 11th Congressional District