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Investor's Business Daily | November 2, 1999

Restoring Checks And Balances

Last year, former White House aide Paul Begala made a chilling statement. Referring to President Clinton's bypassing Congress with executive orders, Begala gushed: ''Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool.''

Apparently Begala forgot that the legislature makes the law. The president's job is to either concur with the laws passed by Congress or reject them. It's up to the Supreme Court to decide if the law fits within our system.

Those checks were built into the Constitution to prevent the arbitrary creation of law through the stroke of a pen. It's a basic lesson for elementary school students. Surely Begala and the White House know that much. That's what makes Clinton's fondness for dictating law so frightening.

Clinton has issued 304 executive orders. That's about average for the last eight presidencies.

But it's a question of intent, not quantity. Using executive orders and proclamations, Clinton has:

Barred contractors that do business with the federal government from hiring replacements for striking workers (even though Congress has repeatedly rejected adopting a law that would achieve the same end).

Grabbed large Western land tracts.

Set in motion a program that could bring a host of rivers under strict federal control.

Since the GOP took Congress in 1995, Clinton has threatened several times to issue executive orders when lawmakers have rejected bills he believes should have passed.

Some executive orders are appropriate. They are often necessary to the day-to-day operations of the government. But when a president uses orders to pursue a policy agenda that he can't achieve through constitutional means, he's stepped beyond his limits.

Only twice have the courts nullified an executive order. A Cato Institute study tells us that out of more than 13,000 issued, Congress has modified or revoked an order only 239 times.

So presidents have been essentially free to make law. They've been bound by only their conscience.

''Presidents have had willing accomplices in Congress,'' explained Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. ''A great number of congressmen and senators quietly appreciate the assumed presidential authority to create and enact legislation because it allows them to see their goals accomplished without having to assume political responsibility.''

Paul has drafted a Separation of Powers Restoration Act. If the bill were enacted, presidential executive orders - except for military orders, pardons and those authorized by Congress - would not have the force of law.

Paul's bill would also let every American challenge presidential orders.

It doesn't take a scholar to know that liberty is threatened when the power to make law is vested in a single person. That's the type of authority wielded by kings and dictators. Our system - and a high degree of freedom - survives on tension between the branches, not on the actions of a wannabe king.

(C) Copyright 1999 Investors Business Daily, Inc.


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