The Vanishing Congress and the Rising Deep State
A Washington insider reflects on the growing imbalance of powers
Former FBI Director James Comey recently denied the existence of a “deep state.” Rather, he says there is a “deep culture” of so-called meritocratic technocracy. That sounds like deep euphemism to me, but it’s worth asking what this vague and sinister term actually means before asking whether it exists.
Jeffrey Bergner, author of The Vanishing Congress, is a long-time Washington insider who has found the roots of something like a deep state in the legislative branch’s abdication of its one job: to make the laws. This might sound like a dream come true for libertarians, but since nature abhors a vacuum, this vital function ends up getting usurped by unelected bureaucrats and unaccountable district judges.
Bergner says that Congress has ceded too much of its authority to the executive branch — with its mutant bureaucratic army — and broken down the checks and balances that the Founders designed to ensure that government represents the people and not its own entrenched interests.
When the executive branch is given such broad leverage to implement laws without express authorization of Congress, presidents and executive agencies are encouraged to legislate by fiat.
Then come the executive orders.
Politics Without Romance
James Buchanan once described the public choice school of political economy as “politics without romance.” Applying economic thinking to public institutions, we observe the results of politicians and bureaucrats pursuing their rational self interest. This is where the true origins of the deep state lie, if anywhere.
Congressional staffers write upwards of 12,000 pieces of legislation every year. Energetic career bureaucrats justify their own existence by continuously issuing new regulatory edicts. Meanwhile, senators and congressmen pretend to do their job, but favor outrage theater over real policy fixes.
So how can we get Congress to reassert its rightful duty to legislate? For starters, Bergner suggests that Congress would be 20% more efficient with 20% fewer staff. I’m conflicted, since I like the idea of shrinking government, but I’m not so sure about increasing congressional efficiency. I question Bergner on this idea, as well as his proposal to reduce debate on cabinet nominations from 30 hours to 2 hours. Isn’t deliberation a good thing? Or have nominations largely become a sideshow of political theater?
Finally, we discuss whether gerrymandering, lobbying, and corporate money are the real problem, or if Congress’s dysfunction is related to its own internal rules and procedures?
Bergner has a storied, colorful career, and his book is a true behind the scenes look at how the meat is made. Tune in to see how Washington actually operates.
- Has America Become an “Elective Monarchy”? Frank Buckley, October 26, 2014
- Making Congress Do Its Job, with Jonathan Wood, March 15, 2019
- Bob Talks Immigration, Government Shutdown, and Immigration Life!Line with Craig Roberts, January 16, 2019