Congress and Foreign Affairs: Reasserting the Power of the First Branch

Summary of Study

Bottom line: The U.S. Constitution provides Congress significant authority over foreign affairs. Yet in modern practice, Congress plays second fiddle to the Executive Branch on foreign policy. Congress hasn't declared war since 1942. This unconstitutional power shift from Congress to the president is concerning. This collection of essays depicts a Congress unsure of its foreign policy role and unsure of how to reassert itself as the Constitution commands.

Congressional Undersight by Casey Burgat

Though they have technical oversight over foreign policy, Congress does not have the capacity to monitor the Executive Branch's movements in this area. Congress is simply outmatched in its warmaking resources, with its budget being far outstripped by the Executive Branch's. It is in Congress's power to close this resource gap. Congress bears as much responsibility for the shift in foreign policy control as the presidency. It can use the power of the purse to limit war. To restore its constitutional warmaking prerogative, Congress must improve its internal resources and gain the political will to challenge the Executive Branch.

A Dynamic Relationship: How Congress and the President Shape Foreign Policy by James Wallner

The relationship between the president and Congress has changed significantly over the past two centuries, bearing little resemblance to the Framer's intentions. The executive has used strategies such as going public and bargaining to compensate for its lack of enumerated war powers. However, the pendulum of warmaking power can swing back toward Congress. Congress holds the power of the purse, which gives it significant leverage to influence foreign policy.

Why Congress Can't Sue to End Military Conflicts by Anthony Marcum

Congress has little ability to sue to stop a military action. Congress also faces poor prospects under the political prospects doctrine. That's largely because judges can't run wars. Therefore, judges leave warmaking to the political branches. Despite this reality, the courts have advised Congress to assert its institutional power to stop presidential warmaking, including oversight, appropriations, and legislation. Congress will see more results in Congress than in the courts.

Congress Must Protect Its Constitutional Power Over War by Louis Fisher

Since President Truman, presidents have engaged in unilateral war. The actions of each of the presidents over this period involve authority placed in both elected branches, not the executive branch alone. Since the “Quasi War” against France in 1798, Congress has seen its authority over warmaking be usurped by the Executive Branch. Congress must reassert itself to its constitutional role in guiding foreign policy to maintain the self-government system in the U.S. 

Read the essays HERE

Feature Charticle

Executive Versus Legislative Branch Budget Ration, 1995-2019

R Street

Findings:

  • Congress is simply outmatched in its warmaking resources, with its budget being far outstripped by the Executive Branch's.
  • To restore its constitutional warmaking prerogative, Congress must improve its internal resources and gain the political will to challenge the Executive Branch. 
  • This collection of essays depicts Congress unsure of its foreign policy role and unsure of how to reassert itself as the constitution commands. 

Read the essays HERE.