In the system of separated powers, not all branches are equal. According to
Professor Lowi, the framers intended Congress to be preeminent. In a short essay,
describe the reasons the framers had for conceiving of Congress as the most
important branch, and how their desire is reflected in the Constitution. Next, think
about how Congress’ role has changed over time. How has the dynamic between
Congress and the other branches evolved, and by what mechanism has the change
(if any) occurred? In other words, if American government has strayed from the
original arrangement, who or what was responsible? What are the consequences for
American democracy, if any?
Integrated into the Constitution is a system of separated powers that assigns specific and
distinctive roles to each branch of government. But rather than making them all equal, the framers
provided the legislative branch with more extensive powers than the other two. However, over
time, this power relative to the other branches has evolved and the Congress of today is vastly
different than it was intended to be by the founders.
The character of the legislative branch was directly related to the framers’ major goals.
--House designed to be directly responsible to the people to encourage popular consent for the
new Constitution and to help enhance the power of the new government.
--Article I, Section 8-all national government powers granted to Congress
Exclusive powers of the national government: collecting taxes, borrowing
money, regulating commerce, declaring war, and maintaining an army and a navy.
Evidence of Superiority in Constitution
Art I, Sec8----all national powers to Congress
Art I, Sec. 9---Congress given “power of the purse”
Art I, Sec 7---all revenue (tax) bills to originate in House
Art II, Sec 3---president to “faithfully execute” the laws---president loyal servant to
Congress, awaits will of congress.
--The framers intended to create an active and powerful national government,
elastic clause/necessary and proper clause
-enumerates the powers of Congress and provides
Congress with the authority to make all laws “necessary and proper” to carry them out.
The supremacy of Congress can also be seen when the United States was still a young
country. Under the Articles of Confederation, the founders chose only to create a legislative
body and no executive or judicial branch. While this early legislative body was extremely
weak, the absence of an executive or judicial branch demonstrates the priorities of the
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, there was a marked shift
in power towards the executive branch. Numerous new deal initiatives were proposed by the
White House and sent to congress for approval, rather than legislation originating in
Congress. After the Watergate scandal and other abuses of power during Nixon’s
administration, Congress began to reassert its powers of oversight and developing legislation.
These shifts from the legislative to the executive and vice-versa have been very common