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Edward Wehr

PAPER 2

In my opinion the balance of power favors the legislative branch simply because it is endowed
with more checks over the executive branch than vice-versa. The founders wanted the
legislative branch to be the most powerful branch which is also enshrined in the Constitution.
They intended that the executive had to be constrained and controlled; moreover, they hardly
gave any thought at all to the Judicial Branch.1 Lately however, the executive branch has
gained power as compared to the beginning of the United States. All three branches use the
system of checks and balances to prevent a particular branch of the U.S. government from
gaining too much power over the other. It ensures a systemic balance in our government
structure.
Congress, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, is the sole branch
that has the power to pass laws. The president has the power to veto legislation passed by the
Congress. Congress in turn can then override a presidents veto with a two-thirds vote in the
House of Representatives and the Senate thereby making the legislation law despite the
Presidents veto. The presidents ability to veto legislation that Congress had passed provides
a check on the legislative branch. The power to veto legislation has been used on numerous
occasions in U.S. history presidents vetoed 2566 times and only 4% of those vetoes were
overridden by Congress which demonstrates that the Presidential veto is quite a mighty
power.2 The number of vetoes previously mentioned also includes so-called pocket-vetoes.
This type of veto becomes effective when the President fails to sign a bill or deliberately
does not sign a bill after Congress has adjourned and is unable to override the veto. 3
1 http://archive.opm.gov/constitution_initiative/speech.asp
2 http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/vetoes.php
3 http://history.house.gov/Institution/Presidential-Vetoes/Presidential-Vetoes/

Edward Wehr
PAPER 2
Presidents can shape or kill legislation with the use or threat of a veto, and do so much more
effectively than previously thought; Congress can respond in kind with filibusters and veto
over-rides. The filibuster has been used 1,300 times since 1917. However, the vast majority of
those filibusters have taken place in recent years. Filibuster kicks off a complex set of Senate
procedures that can bring the Senate to a halt for up to a week and prevents other critical
issues from being addressed.4
The House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach the president for conviction of
treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. However, the Senate has the sole
power to try all impeachments (Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 of Constitution). The House has
initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times but less than a third have led to full
impeachments. Outside of the 15 federal judges impeached by the House, two Presidents
(Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998) have also been impeached.5
When James Madison wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787 he intended the executive branch to
have

less

power

and

influence

than

it

has

today.

Over time, and for various reasons, the institution of the presidency has usurped more and
more authority from the legislative branch. The field of political science has lagged behind the
times on this issue, having traditionally thought of Congress as the paramount institution in
the U.S. system. By assuming that the legislative branch runs the show, for a long time
political scientists neglected to take into account the steady increase in executive influence
over

national

policy-making.6

But has the presidency overtaken the legislature? I argue that, although the presidency is more
4 http://www.nolabels.org/understanding-the-filibuster/
5 http://history.house.gov/Institution/Origins-Development/Impeachment/
6 http://us-government-info.yoexpert.com/us-government-info-general/is-the-executivebranch-more-powerful-than-the-leg-827.html

Edward Wehr
PAPER 2
influential now than at any earlier point in American history, Congress is still leading in the
realm of policy. If the presidency has evolved over time, so too has Congress, and the
evolution of both serve to counter the traditional strengths of the other. I believe that the
executive branch has gained influence because of technology and the information age. Never
before was it possible to communicate as quickly with the public as now. Since advent of
television and other advances, presidents no longer feel the need to bargain with members of
Congress to achieve political ends. Instead, presidents can directly direct their messages to the
public, promote their agendas directly to receptive voters, who then pressure their
congressional representatives to support the Presidents agenda. Representatives in both the
House and Senate are motivated primarily by re-election. They are self-interested, and will
put their own political safety ahead of the Congressional institution as a whole.7
The founders gave much more attention to detail to the Legislative Branch as opposed to the
other Branches of government. This can be seen again regarding the Congressional War
Power and the Presidential War Power. The Congressional War Power is described in 240
words, while the Presidential War Power is described in only 38 words. Thus, on the face of it,
the Founders intended the Congressional War Power to be more powerful. Nevertheless, the
Founders did split the war power between these two branches of government and that was on
purpose. They were trying to find a way to bring the whole nation together in times of war.
Congress has a portion of the war power because the members of Congress come from the
several states and have close ties to all the people. The President has a portion of the war
power because he has a national constituency. The idea was that by splitting up the war
power, the country would not go to war unless both constituencies meaning the whole
country supported war. But there is no debate about what the Founders had in mind once the
nation was at war. Once the nation was at war, the Founders wanted the President to have the
7 http://wikisum.com/w/Mayhew:_Congress

Edward Wehr
PAPER 2
power to move quickly.8 As a result, the Congress is endowed with the power to declare a war,
whereas the President is the Commander-in-chief in times of war.
The executive branch also has other checks on the legislative branch although I believe they
are not as powerful. For example, the Vice President is at the same time the President of the
Senate and the President has the Power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the
recess of the Senate which is called recess appointment (Article II, Section 2 of the U.S.
Constitution). Furthermore, the president has the obligation to give a State of the Union
address in order to give Congress information on the state of the union.9
So to sum it up, although the executive branch has gained influence over the years, I believe
that the legislative branch is still leading in the policy making process. Congress was intended
by the founders to be the leading branch and it is endowed with very powerful checks on the
executive branch like impeaching the president, overriding presidential vetoes and the power
to declare wars. The executive branch in turn has now more influence than the Founders
intended and it is endowed with checks on the legislative like the presidential veto.
Technology has aided presidents ability to bypass Congress and lobby the public directly.

8 http://archive.opm.gov/constitution_initiative/speech.asp
9 http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php

Edward Wehr
PAPER 2

REFERENCES
http://archive.opm.gov/constitution_initiative/speech.asp
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/vetoes.php
http://history.house.gov/Institution/Presidential-Vetoes/Presidential-Vetoes/
http://www.nolabels.org/understanding-the-filibuster/
http://history.house.gov/Institution/Origins-Development/Impeachment/
http://us-government-info.yoexpert.com/us-government-info-general/is-the-executive-branchmore-powerful-than-the-leg-827.html
http://wikisum.com/w/Mayhew:_Congress
http://archive.opm.gov/constitution_initiative/speech.asp
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php

Additionally, I used the textbook as a source. All online sources were retrieved between the 4th
and 9th of December.