Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What part of "power of the purse" don't you understand?

Of all the diaries I've written, my favorites are the ones that start off by quoting the Constitution of the United States. So here goes. From Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution:

Section. 8.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

Now, to me, all of that actually means something--and it was written that way for a reason.

See, it seems to me that the Founding Fathers gave the power of declaring war and funding the military to Congress for one major reason: to prevent a renegade executive from having the power to use the armies of the United States as he or she saw fit, and to make sure that the lives and fortunes of the citizens of the United States would only be sacrificed for a war which had the approval of those same citizens as manifested by their election of Representatives of like mind.

So, when we see something like this from the Executive Branch:

On the one hand, Bush extended an offer to meet with lawmakers Tuesday. On the other, the White House bluntly said it would not be a negotiating session.

it makes it seem remarkably clear that the President clearly does not understand that he is not in any position to dictate terms to Congress. And the reason that he's not in any position to dictate terms to anyone is simple: because it's in the Constitution. In fact, given the power of the purse assigned to Congress by the Constitution of the United States, it is the obligation of the Executive to negotiate with Congress on the terms and conditions of any supplemental funding for military operations.

But Power of the Purse implies something else as well: It is definitely true that the Executive Branch is co-equal to the Legislative Branch and has the authority of veto power. However, if the President, in his co-equal capacity, vetoes the funding decisions of the duly elected Representatives of the people when according to the Constitution it falls under the sole discretion of Congress to raise funds for military operations, that means that Executive Branch is in fact responsible for preventing Congress from doing its job to fund our troops in the field.

This logic would apply universally, but it is true a fortiori when the opinion of the American public stands with Congress and not with the President (which, incidentally, is what led to the election that created this impasse in the first place).

So, while I appreciate it when Reid says:

He has to deal with Congress. We are an independent branch of this government, and by our Constitution we have equal say that he has. And he’s got to listen to us. Because we are speaking for the American people; he isn't.

the fact is that the Majority Leader is actually underplaying his hand. The truth is this: Not only is Congress co-equal; not only does the Congressional bill have the support of the American people; but just as importantly, Congress has the weight of the Constitution and the entire history of United States governance behind it.

That's quite a position of strength. Let's hope our Representatives don't forget it.

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