Friday, January 13, 2012

The world we live in: if you couldn't laugh, you'd have to cry

This morning the president will announce his intent to streamline the federal government by merging a number of trade- and commerce-related agencies. In order to do so, he is requesting that Congress grant him so-called fast-track consolidation authority; this would allow the president to propose consolidations to the legislative branch and get a clean up-or-down vote within 90 days. No president since Reagan has held this power.

As you might imagine, this proposal is expected to be politically contentious. Republicans in Congress are unlikely to accede to the president's demands in an election year, notwithstanding the fact that this sort of consolidation and streamlining is generally consistent with their political platform.

Now consider this: the president can go to war without even asking Congress. When he does deign to request approval, it is reflexively and near-unanimously granted. The executive branch has consistently interpreted the Constitution as granting unitary executive authority to the president in matters of war and foreign policy. What's more, every White House since Truman's has asserted the unilateral right to use nuclear weapons as the president sees fit.

The president must go to Congress with hat in hand in order to merge the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Small Business Administration, but he can embroil this country in expensive, bloody, and strategically dubious foreign wars with scarcely a phone call to the Hill.

He needs an up-or-down vote from the legislature in order to roll up a few sub-cabinet offices, but can invoke the "housekeeping privilege" to bar the release of executive-branch records to the judicial branch—including in cases where the very question of executive privilege and presidential power is at issue.

I vaguely remember a literary quotation I read as a kid (and which I am of course completely unable to track down or even attribute in my adulthood, even with the powers of Google) that said something to the effect of man's inattention to the most important things and attention to insignificant things are the mark of a strange disorder. Quite.

1 comment:

  1. Since FDR exploded the size of Federal Agencies without any real plan or core ideology, there have been 3 Executive Branch efforts to rationalize it: Truman - largely successful but not re-elected, Nixon - he was thrown out of office*, Clinton - impeached. None were bought low directly for offending our real permanent government, but they made enemies doing it.

    *H.R Haldeman The Ends of Power.