Congress Is Weak Because Its Members Want It to Be Weak

Commentary on Congress By Kevin R. Kosar May 2, 2024

Yuval Levin, “Congress Is Weak Because Its Members Want It to Be Weak,” Commentary, July/August 2018.

The title of this essay could be “Congress’s Ambition Problem” or “Congress’s Confusion About Its Role In Our Constitutional Republic.” Yuval Levin laments Congress’s tendency to refuse to act and instead leave policy decisions to the other two branches. Why would it fail to wield its immense Article I powers?”

He writes:

“So how could there be a shortage of legislative ambition? What did James Madison miss?

“He didn’t get the psychology of politicians wrong. People who run for Congress are still very ambitious and driven. But their ambition is now channeled away from the institution of Congress and redirected along two related paths.

“The first is partisan. As polarization has increased, members of Congress have grown more inclined to understand their political and policy ambitions in partisan terms and therefore to see themselves as belonging to a team that extends beyond Congress. That means when they are in the president’s party, they generally work to advance the president’s priorities—because they usually share those priorities, and because they expect success for the president to redound to their own political benefit.”

Levin further notes:

“[C]ontrol of Congress is now in question in just about every election. This has turned up the partisan heat. The minority party at any given moment imagines it could take over next time and get everything it wants, and so it feels little pressure to cooperate with the majority just to get half a loaf or less. And the majority knows that its hold on power is endangered and so avoids bipartisan initiatives in favor of forcing the minority to take hard votes on wedge issues. Both parties behave this way, in and out of power.”

You may read the full essay at


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