STAND UP, CONGRESS

James Madison, renown as “The Father of the Constitution,” would be appalled by the fecklessness of our current Congress – specifically by its cowering in the face of an imperial executive who asserts that he is the war president and Congress must stay out of his way.

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STAND UP, CONGRESS
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James Madison, renown as “The Father of the Constitution,” would be appalled by the fecklessness of our current Congress – specifically by its cowering in the face of an imperial executive who asserts that he is the war president and Congress must stay out of his way.

Far from being powerless to counter an arrogant, reckless, runaway White House, Congress was deliberately endowed with real muscle by the founders so it could stand up to the likes of Bush and Cheney, especially in times of war. Madison, noting that history shows that the executive branch of any government is the “most prone” to war, stated that our Constitution “has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.”

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Only Congress, for example, is authorized to “declare war” – a phrase that means much more than saying, “Okay, start shooting.” Much more powerfully, this declaration clause of the Constitution authorizes Congress to limit the scope and duration of any war, and even to set the terms of military engagement – something that earlier Congresses have done and the Supreme Court has ruled to be proper.

Congress has the absolute power of the purse – the ability to cut off financing for a war or any part of any war – a power that Congress exercised as recently as the 1970s to stop expansion of the Vietnam war. Lawmakers also have the enormous power of investigation and subpoena to hold the executive branch accountable, as well as the ultimate power to initiate impeachment hearings to rein in presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet officers who try to rise above the law.

So, when your hear lawmakers today whine that they can’t stop the BushCheney war regime, don’t buy it. The founders clearly gave them the power to do the job – not as a political option, but as a Constitutional obligation. Having the power, they have the responsibility.

“Congress, the Constitution and War: The Limits on Presidential Power,” www.nytimes.com, January 29, 2007

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