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The Orange County Register | August 4, 1999

Curbing an Imperial Presidency

One of the seldom publicized ways the power of the central government has grown in recent decades has been through the use of presidential Executive Orders. It didn't start with the Clinton administration; Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 3,522 executive orders and Woodrow Wilson issued 1,803, to Bill Clinton's almost 300. But Mr. Clinton has refined to a high art the use of Executive Orders to put in place policies that Congress has not and probably never would approve.

Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, along with Washington state Republican Rep. Jack Metcalf, has introduced H.R. 2655, which would curb the power of this or any president to issue executive orders whose scope and subject matter are not specifically authorized by the constitution or by a law passed by Congress. Backed by the recently formed Liberty Study Committee, Rep. Paul and his allies hope to use the influence of the Internet and other communications technologies to persuade Congress to act on his bill.

An article by Catherine Edwards in the current issue of Insight magazine (http://www.insightmag.com/articles/story4.html) outlines the scope of the problem. For instance, although the Kyoto treaty on global warming has not been presented to the U.S. Senate for ratification and would almost certainly fail if it were, the president has issued a number of executive orders to implement specific provisions of the treaty.

In addition, last summer Executive Order 13083, which would have established federal jurisdiction over states in matters not enumerated in the Constitution, stirred enough of an outcry from citizens and state and local officials that it was rescinded.

American Heritage Rivers Initiative Executive Order 13061 designated 14 rivers as federal property, with those areas running through private property to be seized.

President Clinton has declared 14 states of national emergency (Bush declared five and Reagan six) inluding one in early July based on the putative terrorist threat from Afghanistan's government and an earlier one based on oppression in Burma. All these "national emergencies" give the government the power to bypass normal legislative procedures and all are still in effect.

Rep. Paul's bill recognizes that some executive orders might be necessary to "faithfully execute" the laws passed by Congress, but would limit their scope to that purpose. It would rescind all existing national emergencies and lay out new ground rules for future executive orders. Presidential orders to implement unratified treaties would be illegal. It would require executive orders to declare which provision of the Constitution or statutory law authorizes the order and make it clear that an executive order is not the same as a law, but that even a valid order is "limited in its application and effect to the executive branch. " Perhaps most important, it would create standing for members of Congress, state officials and private citizens to challenge executive orders they believe go beyond constitutional bounds.

To many people all this might seem like an abstract, esoteric tussle. But Rep. Paul believes enough Americans are concerned about the growth of executive power to communicate with members of Congress. "If enough members hear from their constituents and constituencies on this subject, they will act, even as the FDIC decided to rescind the proposed `know your customer' regulations after hundreds of thousands of e-mails," Rep Paul's press spokesman Michael Sullivan told us. "If Americans don't respond, the status quo will remain.

Some of Mr. Paul's supporters have put up a Web site (http://www.executiveorders.org) similar to the site that generated so many protests against the "know your customer" proposal (which would have required banks to report unusual activities by their customers to the feds) in December and January.

All of Orange County's members of Congress should sign on as co-sponsors of H.R. 2655 and of H.R. 30, by Rep. Metcalf of Washington, to express the sense of Congress that any executive order that infringes on the constitutional powers of Congress would be viewed as advisory only and ineligible for federal funds. The imperial presidency built up over most of this century is neither inevitable nor desirable, but it will take concerted effort to trim the arbitrary powers presidents have grabbed.


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