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University Press of Kentucky
Congressional Ambivalence: The Political Burdens of Constitutional Authority

Congressional Ambivalence: The Political Burdens of Constitutional Authority

by Jasmine Farrier
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To understand American democracy is to appreciate the political choices that arise because of overlapping constitutional boundaries. The separation of powers system was designed to encourage institutional conflict about the meaning of the "national interest." However, not all branches are up to the task. On controversial issues, members of Congress routinely surrender power to the executive branch in their struggle to balance conflicting political and policy pressures. After delegating power away, Congress tries to get it back, often without success.

In Congressional Ambivalence: The Political Burdens of Constitutional Authority, Jasmine Farrier characterizes legislative power in recent decades as a cycle of give and take, examining high-profile issues such as base closures, trade, and post-9/11 security at home and abroad. Through primary source materials such as bills, committee reports, and the Congressional Record, Farrier demonstrates that Congress is caught between abdication and ambition, and that this ambivalence influences numerous facets of the legislative process. Along the way, she challenges conventional wisdom about congressional party resurgence, the power of oversight, and the return of the so-called imperial presidency.

Farrier explores specific instances of disorder following congressional delegation of power, including Congress's use of new bills, obstruction, and public criticism to salvage its lost power, and exposes the process as a constant struggle to satisfy conflicting legislative, representative, and oversight duties. In chapter 4, the Iraq War Resolution emerges as yet another example of legislators' granting large measures of authority to the executive branch, only to publicly criticize the president for using that power when the management of the war comes under fire. Farrier examines these shifts with a close account of public rhetoric used by members of Congress as they emphasize, in institutionally self-conscious terms, the difficulties of balancing their multiple roles.

Examining decades of power shifts and policy changes, Congressional Ambivalence offers a rare look at the causes and consequences of major imbalances in the separation of powers in American government. With a lucid account of complex institutional processes, Farrier exposes an alarming trend in the practice of democracy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813192628
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 03/24/2010
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jasmine Farrier, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisville, is the author of Passing the Buck: Congress, the Budget, and Deficits. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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