As Congress tries to do Too Much, Look to Arizona for Good Governance

As Congress tries to do Too Much, Look to Arizona for Good Governance

April 8, 2015

By: Patrick Hedger, Policy Director-American Encore

The complaint that Congress “does nothing” or reports claiming the previous Congress was “the least productive in history” are somewhat annoying. Supposedly seasoned politicos like to make this point as if they are offering something insightful when in reality they are simply tallying the number of bills passed by a Congress in its two-year life span. There are two problems with using this as a measure for good governance: 1. Congress passes a lot of bills and resolutions that are pure fluff, such as naming post offices, honoring inanimate objects, or praising some celebrity and 2. Congress isn’t supposed to be doing all that much in the first place.

Instead of expecting Congress to be on top of every issue, we should look to state governments to take on an increasing role in governance. Not only is that what the Constitution basically says, but state governments are also proving to be more nimble and effective at solving problems. One state legislature in particular, the legislature of Arizona, has just put Congress to shame when it comes to good governance.

Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution explicitly lays out all the things that Congress should be doing. Believe it or not, there are only 18 items. What’s more, Congress justifies most of what they do using only three of them:

1. “The Congress shall have Power To… provide for the… general Welfare of the United States;”

2. “To regulate Commerce… among the several States,”

3. “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

It seems illogical that the founders would have enumerated 18 specific functions for Congress and have then expected the majority of Congress’s business to encompass just three items, two of which are in fact sub-items of broader functions.

1. “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

2. “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;”

A more logical deduction would be that Congress, and the federal government as a whole, perhaps does way too much.

We’ve come to expect a constant stream of legislation from Capitol Hill to solve every single problem, no matter how minute. Every single time a problem arises, the popular media narrative immediately reverts to “Congress should do something!” Congress is not supposed to be dealing with 99 percent of the things we worry about. Problems in locals schools from bullying to lunches and problems with local roads and highways were never intended to be the priority of a body charged with representing the United States on the global stage. The purpose of Congress was to decide on issues that arose between the various states and between the United States and the rest of the world. Everything else? That’s the reason why each state has their own government, complete with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. There are 50 of them! It seems logical to think that 50 different governments, each with greater proximity to the actual issues, are likely better suited to fix whatever domestic problems turns up.

Speaking of state governments, one state legislature is providing a model for how Congress should be behaving. That state is Arizona, whose legislature just adjourned for the rest of the year… in April! Arizona set a modern record for the quickest legislative session. One might be inclined to think that means the Arizona legislature got very little, if anything, done. One would be wrong. In less than four months, the Arizona legislature reorganized the state’s schools to allow the best performing schools to greatly expand the number of students they can serve, they cut the income tax, passed laws that reduced regulation on innovative businesses like microbreweries and the ridesharing services Uber and Lyft, and, above all, passed a balance budget proposed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, balancing the budget for the first time in 8 years!

Congress would be out of breath by the time they finished just one of these reforms. Yet the ability to get good reforms done on the state and local level isn’t the only message we should take away from Arizona about the importance of state government. Let us also take note of the fact that Arizona’s legislature got the job done and then, again, did something completely different from Congress. They went home to their families and their normal jobs. Congress, meanwhile, tries to do too much and then when/if they get done they stick around Washington until the next election and effectively light more fires for themselves to put out. It’s unnecessary and unproductive. The micromanagement of all aspects of the nation by Congress is causing more problems than it is solving. This level of central planning from a far-away capital does not work and creates economic chaos; just ask someone from the former Soviet Union.

The problem with our economy and other aspects of our nation is that the insistence on action from Washington generally results in a constant stream of changing rules. Imagine trying to play a game where the rules change as often as people expect Congress to pass new laws. You would never win. That’s how American business owners and families feel. Let us try replacing a Congress expected to consistently churn out legislation like a factory as it actively referees all the nation’s affairs with something like Arizona’s legislature, which acts like an annual commissioners’ or owners meeting that sets out rules and sorts out problems before a sports season. Let’s have a part-time governing body on the federal level by not just following Arizona’s example, but the Constitution as well. 

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