Thursday, December 14, 2006
The ultimate test of the Unitary Executive
This phrase is used most prominently in official business when the President uses signing statements to change the meaning of laws passed by Congress. The most famous example was when the President issued a signing statement when he signed the McCain/Warner anti torture bill. Despite the fact that the constitution explicitly provides the Congress with authority to decide the fate of captured enemies (article 1, section 8: to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;) the President issued a signing statment declaring his intention to bypass provisions of the law which he determined were contrary to his right as commander in chief to oversee a unitary executive.
Basically the theory of the unitary executive (and please consider that I have an obvious bias in making this point, so do your own research) is that the Constitution provides certain limitations on the ability of Congress or the Judicial branches to interfere with the President in matters pertaining to overseeing the Executive branch. While this is true to a certain extent, the group currently in power wish to use this kernel of truth to explode the reach of the Presidency beyond any previously recognized limitations. For example the Constitution specifically and concisely gives guidance as to how a law becomes law. At no point is the President allowed under Constitutional guidelines to make his own law or unilaterally change the meaning of laws passed by Congress. The President may sign the laws passed by Congress or veto them. Yet President Bush has used the theory of unitary executive to sign many hundreds of signing statements that explicitly change the meaning of laws he is signing. Thus the President went over five years before issuing his first veto. There were hundreds of laws passed in the meantime that the President openly defied by simply changing the meaning of the law with a statement.
But the purpose of this post is not to rehash the absurdity of the extremes taken by this administration in the name of the unitary executive. It is to point out what will soon be the absolutely outrageous extreme that President Bush seems determined to pursue, leading this nation further into disaster in the name of his supposed right to do so.
The President may be commander in chief, but that does not give him the right to lead our armed forces into needless war and bloodshed just because he thinks, beyond all reason, that it is the right thing to do, or continue doing. The ultimate test of the unitary executive will come when Congress decides not to approve the expenditures necessary to continue or expand a misguided policy. Congress has the implicit constitutional authority to fund, or not fund, the Presidents misbegotten war.
What happens if the President, with approval ratings in the low 30's mainly due to his mishandling of the Iraq war, insists on throwing more troops into the meat grinder? The express will of the people is to bring an end to this war, not expand it. We can't allow the administration to play semantic games with us on this either. Ending the war doesn't mean pushing more troops into the fray and setting up a pro western democracy. In reality, that isn't going to happen. The notion that the American people want more-more of the same is not plausible, but I'll bet this administration will try to make it sound like that...
How this President could side step the obstacle of not recieving Congressional funding for expanding the Iraq war is beyond my understanding. But I do not have a doubt that given that circumstance he would try some absurd mechanism to keep his war going. And he would claim unitary executive power as commander in chief to do it too.
This would be the ultimate test, and the final line to be crossed in pursuit of power using the argument of the unitary executive. The right of the commander in chief to pursue goals widely discredited amongst the American people and not funded by Congress. The President would defy both Congress and the people by taking this tack, and bring a constitutional crisis upon this nation that would make Watergate look like a 3rd rate burglary.
Chances are that Congress won't have the cajones to stand up to the President when push comes to shove. But if they do... watch out.
I agree they probably won't, but what a spectacle it would be if they did decide to withdraw the funding.
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