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How Congress Fell Behind the Executive Branch

How Congress Fell Behind the Executive Branch

Chapter:
(p.51) 4 How Congress Fell Behind the Executive Branch
Source:
Congress Overwhelmed
Author(s):
Philip A. Wallach
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226702605.003.0004

How did America’s executive branch come to dwarf the legislative branch? This chapter surveys more than two centuries of American history to show how executive empowerment has primarily been driven by decisions made by Congress itself. In the Constitution’s first century, the federal government grew steadily, but remained quite small and geographically decentralized by modern standards. In the first half of the twentieth century, Congress caused America’s central government to grow exponentially, especially in terms of manpower, while seeing to its own development considerably less. In post-war America, the federal government has developed increasingly complex ways of expanding its reach without expanding its manpower, overseen by a Congress that at first seemed determined to master the executive branch but that in recent decades has allowed itself to stagnate. In addition to offering a narrative account, the chapter tracks some crude metrics, such as the ratio between the number of employees in the two branches, to show what an immense task Congress now faces when trying to oversee the vast, shape-shifting network of specialized executive organs.

Keywords:   Congress, executive branch, bureaucracy, federal spending, oversight, congressional staff, size of government, congressional capacity

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