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R Street Institute

R Street Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization. We are a free market think-tank with a pragmatic approach to public-policy challenges. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government. We work extensively on both state and national policy and are dedicated to building broad coalitions and working with a wide array of groups who share specific policy goals.

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Building a 21st Century Congress That Works

Organizer: R Street Institute

Less than one in four Americans have a favorable opinion of Congress. Many legislators and congressional staff feel frustrated that they cannot get things done. Yet, our Constitution deems Congress the first branch, and the source of all legislative power. How can we reform Congress so that it can better serve the public?

To answer that question, esteemed scholars of Congress were assembled to study what's going right in Congress, what's going wrong, and how our national legislature might be improved. Inspired by the creation and action of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (SCOMC), their analyses and recommendations were recently released in the Report of the Task Force Project on Congressional Reform. Many of the recommendations within the report relate to – and in some cases mirror – the recommendations and topics of discussion the SCOMC discussed and those that have been included in H. Res. 756. Some of the experts who contributed to this report will come to discuss their findings and recommendations at this event.

Location: The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, First Street Northeast, Room 264, Washington, DC

Balance of Power
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"The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa," writes M. Anthony Mills.

Congress’ knowledge deficit renders it powerless

Mills is associate vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.

"Knowledge is power." The phrase is attributed to Francis Bacon, the so-called father of modern science, who believed that scientific knowledge enables the mastery of nature and the "relief of man's estate." Although Bacon himself was interested primarily in scientific and technological progress, the connection between knowledge and power is also a political problem — and one that is particularly pertinent today.

Knowledge has always been necessary for making laws and political decisions. But in modern times, scientific knowledge in particular has become indispensable for governing — and not only because modern states make decisions about overtly scientific matters like research funding, environmental protection and space exploration. Administering public policies, from health care and welfare to regulation and taxation, relies on various types of scientific knowledge. And it is, for the most part, carried out by executive agencies staffed by experts.

Over time, such agencies have acquired legislative-like powers — the authority, in effect, to make law by interpreting deliberately vague or broad statutes. One rationale for Congress' delegation of this power to the executive branch has to do with knowledge: Congress lacks the requisite expertise, whereas executive agencies do not. This is in part Congress' own fault, since it has, over time, depleted its own in-house expertise — by, for example, reducing expert staff and dismantling the Office of Technology Assessment. The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa.

This is problematic on three counts.

Keep reading...

Symposium on Congressional Capacity and Endless War in Afghanistan & Syria

Organizer: R Street Institute

U.S. military personnel invaded Afghanistan almost two decades ago, and the U.S government began supplying aid to Syrian rebels in 2012. In neither case did Congress use its Article I authority to declare war. In fact, Congress has not declared war since 1942. Instead, presidential administrations have justified their military actions in Afghanistan or Syria. For example, Congress passed an "authorization of the use of military force" (AUMF) in 2001 to permit the Bush administration to use U.S. military resources against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. This sort of presidentially-initiated military intervention is a far cry from what the Founders intended.

Join the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group on November 12 to discuss this constitutionally anomalous situation and congressional capacity over war powers and foreign affairs.

Location: Capitol Visitor Center, CVC 268, Washington, DC

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