Restoring Checks And Balances

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) is one of the most partisan members of Congress.  Indeed, he was one of the impeachment managers when the House of Representatives brought charges against President Trump earlier this year.

Schiff has recently proposed a series of wide-sweeping bills that is, however, worthy of consideration and support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Schiff has proposed a series of bills that would significantly limit a President’s powers to rule by executive order and shift some power back to Congress. Of course, as a partisan politician, Schiff announced that everything was in response to Trump, and several of the measures were in direct response to charges Democrats have leveled at the President. And while some of what is proposed is targeted directly at Trump, the broader outline is long overdue.

The writers of the Constitution were wise in setting up checks and balances in our system of government. There were specific things put in place to limit the power of the Executive-the President-and would require Congressional action, as well.  By doing so, it also limited the power of one person (at that time, it was in reaction to a King) but would also require a consensus among elected representatives for action. There is wisdom in that.

Yet that separation has become more blurred than at any time in US history. President’s have assumed, and Congress has delegated, power far beyond what should be the case. Although Presidents going back to at least Nixon have taken a broad view of a their own power, that has increased exponentially in the last decade.

You will recall that President Obama, a former constitutional law professor, got frustrated with his inability to get Congress to pass some of the things he wanted so he infamously said “If they don’t act, I have a pen”, threatening to get those things done with an executive order. Because he didn’t get what he wanted, he thought he should be able to order it done.  In fact, Obama was taken to court by Congress six times for things that he ordered which Congress argued he did not have the power to do, losing every time because his actions had exceeded his authority. Obama was the most imperial president until that time, with the possible exception of FDR.

With Trump’s election, Obama’s excesses on executive power were taken to the next level. Among Obama’s attempts to expand executive power without approval from Congress were giving work permits to illegal immigrants and ‘reinterpreting’ Title IX legislation that had been passed by Congress years before. Conservatives were outraged.

All things are political in Washington, so just as Republicans predicted when they were attacking Obama’s imperial presidency, the next president could do the same when it was a Republican in office. That has turned out to be proven true very quickly. Democrats are outraged at Trump’s actions to bypass Congress to shift military funds to fund a border wall, for example. More recently, Trump used tens of billions of dollars to give pandemic unemployment aid to states after the expiration of the previous package on July 31. Of course, in that case no one fought it because it was clear that the aid was needed and no one was going to fight aid to the unemployed in an election year. Yet, it’s clear that the President can’t just spend tens of billions of dollars just with the stroke of his pen. 

Congress has abdicated their responsibilities and allowed presidents to assume power that they do not have under the Constitution. There is a reason we don’t put so much power in the hands of one person. Republicans were against it when it was Obama, and Democrats are against it when it’s Trump. Bottom line is that we need a national consensus that is inherent in our system of checks and balances. And if that means they system doesn’t move fast enough for the person residing in the White House, we all should be ok with that, and even thankful. And, for sure, we will be better off with that.

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