Thursday, March 12, 2015

Congressional Dithering and Presidential Power

If you were wondering why American Presidents seems to be arrogating more and more power to themselves, leaving less and less for Congress, consider what has happened to Obama's request for formal approval of his campaign against ISIS. In a word, nothing:
President Obama’s formal request for congressional authorization to fight the Islamic State — once framed by lawmakers as a matter of great constitutional import — is now seriously imperiled because Republicans think it does too little and Democrats think it does too much.

And neither the White House nor many members of Congress seemed in any rush to bridge the divide.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials urged members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to approve Mr. Obama’s request, but it was clear during the contentious three-hour session that lawmakers were far from reaching any agreement.
If Congress wants to exert any control over Presidential behavior, they must insist that their constitutional role be respected. But here we have a conflict against an awful enemy that everyone on Capitol Hill agrees is important, and the relevant committees can't even schedule a vote on the President's request. Of course the President is not really pushing for Congress to act, since their dithering gives him a clear field to do whatever he wants. If Republicans don't want to place additional restrictions on his actions, they should just approve the bill he sent over. I would prefer more restrictions, if only to make the point that Congress has that right, but expanding the law seems pointless given how broad it already is, and how freely both Bush and Obama have interpreted the authority they already have.

Executive power is expanding because Congress is retreating. We saw this plainly in the disputes over warrantless spying, where most Congressmen have actively renounced their oversight role and flat out asked the executive to go on spying however they want, regardless of restrictions that Congress voted into law. Republicans have lately been trying to reverse the President's executive actions on immigration, but they have not been able to do the one thing that might actually constrain the President: pass a law. The only response to an over-active executive is an activist Congress, which can probably only happen with the support of activist voters.

Don't hold your breath.

1 comment:

David said...

It looks to me like there's plenty of activism--it's just driven by ideology rather than interest in institutions. Many of the current crop of politicians want to see certain policies enacted--e. g., the mass deportation of illegal immigrants--and they don't much care whether it's Congress or the president that enacts the policy.