Friday, January 11, 2019
No, not that creep — albeit the creep you're thinking of may be poised to accelerate the creep I'm thinking of: the creeping accretion of presidential power.
Politicians hoping to win reelection do their best to avoid any action that might stir controversy: they much prefer to leave such actions to the President. The last time Congress used its constitutional power to declare war was in 1941, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor; and all our current conflicts – in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – are unconvincingly based on the Authorization of Military Force against al-Qaeda, enacted in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Congress also allows the President to act without its approval in cases of national emergency, but national emergency has never been well-defined. Until now, presidents have used it primarily to impose economic sanctions on specific governments and individuals — actions Congress could have initiated on its own had it been so inclined. In those instances, Congressional inaction may have been motivated more by laziness than by political peril, but still served to accelerate the creep of authority from the Legislature to the Executive.
Currently, Our President is very likely to use his emergency powers to build his wall, diverting the needed funds from Army Corps of Engineers projects currently budgeted to help victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires. Most congressional Republicans seem ready to allow it, even though doing so would mean ceding fiscal authority to the executive — thereby compromising the single most important legislative check on executive power and further eroding what remains of our putative democracy.
Congress does have the authority to stop it, under the National Emergency Act of 1976; but that would entail Mitch McConnell, that most professional of professional politicians, letting a challenge reach the floor of the Senate. He won't.
And the creep goes on.