“Solid ground for optimism as well as cause for foreboding.” So James L. Sundquist views the outcome of the struggle by the Congress in the 1970s to recapture powers and responsibilities that in preceding decades it had surrendered to a burgeoning presidency. The resurgence of the Congress began in 1973, in its historic constitutional clash with President Nixon. For half a century before that time, the Congress had acquiesced in its own decline vis-à-vis the presidency, or had even initiated it, by building the presidential office as the center of leadership and coordination in the U.S. government and organizing itself not to initiate and lead but to react and follow. But the angry confrontation with President Nixon in the winter of 1972-73 galvanized the Congress to seek to regain what it considered its proper place in the constitutional scheme. Within a short period, it had created a new congressional budget process, prohibited impoundment of appropriated funds, enacted the War Powers Resolution, intensified oversight of the executive, extended the legislative veto over a wide range of executive actions, and vastly expanded its staff resources. The Decline and Resurgence of Congress, after reviewing relations between president and Congress over two centuries, traces the long series of congressional decisions that created the modern presidency and relates these to certain weaknesses that the Congress recognized in itself. It then recounts the events that marked the years of resurgence and evaluates the results. Finally, it analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the new Congress and appraises its potential for leadership and coordination.
James L. Sundquist is senior fellow emeritus in the Governmental Studies program at Brookings and the author of numerous books, including Constitutional Reform and Effective Government (Brookings, rev. ed., 1992).