January 16, 2007

THE KNOCKERS ON FERDINAND:

What Congress Can (And Can't) Do on Iraq (David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, January 16, 2007, Washington Post)

Congressional Democrats (and Republicans) who oppose President Bush's decision to send additional American troops to Iraq may frustrate his plan, but not -- as suggested by Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn -- by imposing 21,500 strings on the 21,500 new troops. Just as there are constraints on the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, there are limits on Congress's ability to direct presidential action. In particular, Congress cannot use its power of the purse to micromanage the president's execution of his office. Indeed, although the prosecution of the Iraq war looms large in today's political discourse, the consequences of substantive decisions related to the war are dwarfed by the imperatives of protecting the integrity of the core rules governing interactions between the executive and legislative branches, which are rooted in our distinctive constitutional fabric.

This constitutional fabric features two coordinate political branches, with unique responsibilities and independent legitimacies. Thus, even if one assumes that, as critics allege, the November election results were a call for disengaging from Iraq, efforts by some congressional Democrats to chastise the president through a resolution of "no confidence" in his Iraq policy have no place in our constitutional culture. The Framers did not establish a parliamentary system.

This does not mean, of course, that Congress is powerless. It could -- if the leadership mustered veto-proof majorities -- immediately cut off funding for U.S. operations in Iraq. Alternatively, Congress could refuse to pass new appropriations once the current ones expire. The refusal to pay for particular policies -- whether in war or peace -- has been the most important check on executive power in the Anglo-American political tradition, dating to the British Parliament's ancient insistence on the right to seek redress of grievances before voting supplies (i.e., money) to the monarch. Under our constitutional system, however, the power to cut off funding does not imply the authority to effect lesser restrictions, such as establishing benchmarks or other conditions on the president's direction of the war. Congress cannot, in other words, act as the president's puppet master, and so long as currently authorized and appropriated funding lasts, the president can dispatch additional troops to Iraq with or without Congress's blessing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 16, 2007 5:18 PM
Comments

Mr. Judd:

Ferdinand the Bull is indeed a classic Disney animated short. "As useful as tits on a bull" is a nice colorful phrase. I wonder if this would qualify for a book, if you still did that sort of thing.

Posted by: John Thacker at January 16, 2007 6:46 PM

Mr. Judd:

Ferdinand the Bull is indeed a classic Disney animated short. "As useful as tits on a bull" is a nice colorful phrase that could well be used to describe Congress. I wonder if this would qualify for a book, if you still did that sort of thing.

Posted by: John Thacker at January 16, 2007 6:47 PM
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