As stated in the Constitution, the United States Congress has the power to write laws. If this seems obvious, forgive me. It’s something that Congress itself seems to have forgotten as of late. All too often, Congress has been completely abdicating its responsibility in the process of governing, preferring to let courts make the difficult decisions, giving executive agencies wide latitude to impose sweeping regulations, or encouraging the president to govern by executive fiat instead. This isn’t how our Founding Fathers intended the country to function: They wanted the country to have three co-equal branches of government that could be checked by each other. In recent times, Congress has upended the scales by shirking its duties.

Take, for instance, the very serious occasion of deciding to use military force. Theoretically, Congress is supposed to have the sole power to declare war, something that was last done June 5, 1942. Since then, the country hasn’t exactly been at eternal peace: Congress has authorized other military actions without formally declaring war, including the overly expansive and vague “war on terror.” That declaration was theoretically passed as a reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks, but it’s been used by presidents to pursue military action against groups that had nothing to do with those attacks, and Congress has yet to repeal or narrow it. Instead, it’s been happy to let the executive branch make the tough decisions on war and peace.

Congress has recently done this with social issues as well, both before and after Supreme Court decisions. For decades after Roe v. Wade, there was little effort by Congress to formally incorporate the ruling into federal statutes; instead, it simply ignored the issue – the court had taken care of it. This is not only irresponsible governance but bad political strategy; abortion rights opponents were working to overturn that decision. It might seem as if it’s natural for the legislative branch to disregard an issue once the judicial branch rules on it, but that’s not how it’s worked historically at the federal level, nor is it how it works in Maine. Recently, anticipating that the state’s prohibition on religious schools’ participation in the school voucher program might be overturned by the Supreme Court, the Legislature rewrote the program, making the decision less significant before it was reached.

While that bill shouldn’t have been passed in the first place, and Republicans should repeal it if they retake the majority, it was an example of proper governing, something increasingly falling by the wayside all over this country.

Federally, though, Congress may well have rediscovered its zeal for doing its job after the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. While any bill to enshrine abortion rights into federal law is unlikely to pass, progress is visible in other areas. The U.S. House recently passed a bill to recognize marriage equality at a federal level; were it to become law, any future Supreme Court ruling allowing state restrictions on same-sex marriage would be essentially moot. After Republican leadership made it clear they didn’t oppose it, the bill received wide bipartisan support in the House. It has attracted bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate as well: Both Maine’s Susan Collins and Rob Portman of Ohio are cosponsors, and a number of other Senate Republicans have said they would be willing to consider it. That open-mindedness is an encouraging sign of progress for Republicans on the issue.

It’s also a sign that conservatives aren’t necessarily monolithic in their views on social issues. Many of the House Republicans who voted for the bill aren’t moderates generally: They oppose abortion rights and support the recent decision overturning Roe. Marriage equality is a separate issue, though, and social conservatives increasingly seem to recognize that.

It’s worth remembering that any Supreme Court decision is never the final say on an issue. Congress, and the states, still have the power to pass new legislation. It would be good for the country as a whole if activists and legislators on both sides kept that in mind, and if Congress began to step up to the plate and actually do its job, rather than deferring to the courts or the Oval Office.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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