Gazette | 08/09/1999
An imperial prez A plan to curb president's power to
sidestep Congress, Constitution
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, of course; Franklin D. Roosevelt
issued 3,522 executive orders and Woodrow Wilson
issued 1,803, to some 300 by Bill Clinton.
But the current
White House occupant, arguably, has refined to a high art
the use of executive orders to put in place policies
that Congress has not approved and probably never would.
Rep. Ron Paul, a
Texas Republican, and Washington state Republican Rep. Jack
Metcalf, have 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, Paul and his allies
hope to use the influence of the Internet and other
communications technologies to persuade Congress to act on
AN ARTICLE BY
Catherine Edwards in the current issue of Insight magazine (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
Rivers Initiative Executive Order 13061 designated 14
rivers as federal property, with those areas running through
private property to be seized. Presidential Decision
Directive 25 enables the U.S. military to be put under the
command of the United Nations without congressional
has declared 14 states of national emergency (Bush declared
five and Reagan six) including one in early July based on
the putative terrorist threat from Afghanistan's government
and an earlier one based on oppression in Burma.
"national emergencies" give the government the
power to bypass normal legislative procedures and all are
still in effect.
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 Paul
believes enough Americans are concerned about the growth of executive
power to communicate with members of Congress.
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," said Paul's press
spokesman Michael Sullivan.
don't respond, the status quo will remain."
SOME OF PAUL'S
supporters have put up a Web site (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 members of
Congress, party and ideology aside, should sign on as
co-sponsors of H.R. 2655 and of H.R. 30, by Metcalf, 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
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.