Are we witnessing the end of representative government?

Back at the turn of the century, as Chair of the Missouri Advisory Council On Alcohol and Drug Abuse, I appeared before committees working-up the state’s mental health budget.  The legislature maintained this great fiction that they controlled state operations down to one percent of every state employee’s time.  Using their power, a committee – thence the whole legislature – might slash a line item from 12.45 FTEs [Full Time Equivalent employees] down to 10.75 FTEs.

Of course, that mythical level of oversight never happened.  Still, it made the elected Representatives and Senators think they accomplished something.

And, even in these Republican times, the Missouri Legislature holds hearings and goes over the thick budget books for state departments in intricate detail.  Even expending just a trifle of money ($10,000 or $25,000 in a $30 billion budget) leads to debate, negotiations and tremendous angst.

Not this week.

The same legislature which traditionally sweats nickels gave accidental Governor Mike Parson unprecedented authorization to seek and spend over $6 billion without further or meaningful oversight.

Also, the Missouri legislature, by law, must pass a balanced budget for the new state fiscal year in early May.  Nope.

The latest plan has the governor calling a special session – probably in mid to late June – to pass a kinda budget.  Instead of detailed hearings and intricate review, the House and Senate will listen to a quick overview from bureaucrats and pull-out the rubber stamp.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Congress gave the Federal Reserve Board broad power to act in virtual secrecy. Politico reports:

The new law would absolve the board of the requirement to keep minutes to  closed-door meetings as it deliberates on how to set up the $450 billion loan program. That would severely limit the amount of information potentially available to the public on what influenced the board’s decision-making. The board would only have to keep a record of its votes, though they wouldn’t have to be made public during the coronavirus crisis.

Remember, the Federal Reserve already acts deep in the shadows.  How they “find” trillions of dollars to prop-up the economy on short notice is pretty much a head scratcher. Yes, they do, after all, print money.  Still, it would be a nice to believe that somehow people elected by their neighbors get to review and question how our economy is manipulated.  Not this year. The current president sees the Fed as just another loyal serfdom obligated to respond to his whim,.

Donald Trump, alas, ignores rules—and truth—every day.  Note how when he signed the latest stimulus bill, he refused to abide by its oversight provisions.  And, his new hobby is firing federal Inspector Generals, even the ones he appointed.

Donald, like Mike here in Missouri, prefers to rule by decree. “I know what’s best for you” ought to be on both their business cards. Dictate, don’t negotiate. If it works for Vladimir Putin or Recep Erdağon it ought to work for Trump and Parson.

Too bad it is working.

For decades, historians have charted the move towards an imperial presidency in this country. Yet it continues. And, Missouri governors of both parties have yanked more power to their office—the disposal of Eric Greitens being the rare exception to that trend.

My fear?  When COVID 19 heads to the history books, the extra control seized by government executives “during the emergency” won’t go away. Kind of like today’s Federal Assembly in Russia.  What began almost 30 years ago as a true parliament has reverted to the old Supreme Soviet, existing to say yes to the tyrant’s whims (including changing the law so the tyrant can rule as long as he wants).

Remember, Republicans elected to Washington and Jefferson City voluntarily ceded much of their power.  Will their successors ever get that power back?  Probably not