[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Gregory Koger, Host:
Jasmine Farrier’s Congressional Ambivalence tackles a subject that is both classic and timely: delegation of policy choices to the President and the executive branch. Farrier analyzes delegation to the executive on military base closures, trade policy (“fast track”), and the “War on Terror”—the PATRIOT ACT, Iraq policy, Guantanamo, and surveillance wiretaps. She finds a recurring theme of ambivalence: expressions of reluctance before Congress cedes power, expressions of regret after the fact. But Farrier suggests that Congress nonetheless rarely reclaims power once it has been ceded to the executive, a point illustrated perfectly by the PATRIOT act.
Political scientists have long studied the subject of delegation, suggesting that Congress grants decision-making power to agencies or Presidents to either a) gain the benefits of policy expertise or b) avoid responsibility for policies that are in the national interest but impose costs on some constituents. Farrier stresses that this process is not “clean”—it is hotly contested as legislators debate the need to sacrifice autonomy—and that a single law delegating power to the executive branch often begins a cycle of investigative hearings, attempts to undermine or rescind the law, and contests over whether the law should be extended.
Farrier’s policy narratives, including a short narrative on the first Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), lead up to the end of the Bush Administration. But Congressional ambivalence is alive and well. Congress is still reacting to President-driven policy decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan policy and Gitmo detainees. On top of that, the 111th Congress has delegated new powers to the Obama administration on (for example) how and when the February 2009 stimulus funds will be spend, and on health care savings. Perhaps the strangest case of “delegation” occurred when the Senate defeated a proposal to establish a deficit commission, so President Obama created his own commission by executive order. Despite this end run around them, members of Congress treat this outcome as de facto delegation since leaders of both parties have signaled that they will act on the recommendations of the commission. Farrier’s book, therefore, is quite timely.