Congress and the Executive Branch: Delegation and Presidential Dominance

B. Dan Wood

in The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199559947
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of American Politics

Congress and the Executive Branch: Delegation and Presidential Dominance


In many respects, the presidency envisioned by the founders of the American constitution was to be a passive agent of Congress. Historically under a monarchial rule, Americans have become greatly suspicious of executive power. As a result, a deliberate attempt was made to limit executive power through institutional design. Congress was granted powers to make policy while the Chief Executive was given no explicit policymaking powers. The president rather was given limited veto power to negate what was considered unwise policy. The concept of “congressional government” where the early presidents were viewed as clerks who simply carried out the will of Congress persisted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, in the modern form of American government, the concept of “congressional government” has changed. Today, the presidency is widely viewed as the centerpiece of the American political system. This article addresses some questions on Congress and the executive branch through the theoretical lenses of agency theory and transaction cost politics. It specifically aims to address questions such as: What were the changes that caused a more dominant presidency than was envisioned by the founders? Why did Congress cede power to the Executive? What were the consequences of congressional delegation for power relations between Congress and the Executive?

Keywords: constitution; Congress; executive power; Chief Executive; policymaking powers; veto power; congressional government; agency theory; transaction cost politics

Article.  10559 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Political Institutions

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