Congress, Drones, and The Imperial Presidency
Last week the US Senate took a break from debating the phony cuts known as "sequestration," for Senator Rand Paul to hold a 13-hour filibuster to force the Obama administration to state whether it believes the President has the right to kill American citizens with drones on US soil. I find it tragic that there has to be a discussion on an issue that should be so self-evident.
However, feeling the pressure, the administration finally said "no," but in language so twisted that no one should feel in the slightest bit reassured. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the president does not believe he has the right to use the military to kill an American who is "not engaged in combat on American soil." Left undefined is how the administration defines "combat." As constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley wrote last week, "one can easily foresee this or a future president insisting that an alleged terrorism conspiracy is a form of 'combat'."
The administration's outrageous response to the most serious Constitutional question of all -- when a government can kill its own citizens -- is clear evidence of an executive branch out of control.
Many of the drafters of the Constitution envisioned the presidency as an office with very limited powers, but even the most dedicated proponents of a strong presidency at the time would be shocked to see the concentration of power in the modern presidency.
Today the presidency is viewed as the center of the federal government, with each successive administration expanding the power of the executive at the expense of Congress and the people.
Ironically, some of the worst offenders are those who campaigned promising to reverse the power grabs of their predecessors. For example, candidate George W. Bush campaigned on a "humble foreign policy," but as president he attacked Iraq based on his own administration's lies and claimed the right to indefinitely detain anyone he deemed an "enemy combatant."
Candidate Barack Obama promised he would reverse his predecessor's constitutional abuses. Yet not only has President Obama not closed Guantanamo Bay, he reportedly holds weekly meetings in the oval office to draw up "kills lists," uses drones against American citizens, and routinely sends the US military into combat abroad without even consulting Congress!
The modern use of "executive orders" also usurps the lawmaking function of Congress. The most notable recent example was President Obama's January series of executive orders on gun control, but unfortunately there are countless other examples over the last several administrations.
Ultimately, the fault for the expansion of presidential power lies with Congress. Too many members of Congress are all too eager to avoid responsibility for controversial actions, preferring to "pass the buck" to the president. For example, Congress no longer declares war, but instead passes an "authorization of force" telling the president he can go to war when or if he wants!
On domestic policy, Congress passes large, vaguely-worded pieces of legislation and leaves it to the president and the bureaucrats to fill in the details. Many members of Congress score points with their constituents railing against "the faceless D.C. bureaucrats" while never mentioning that they voted for the law that gave the bureaucrats their power!
Last week, a group of "fiscally conservative" senators even tried to give President Obama more authority over spending as a part of sequester replacement that would have "required" Obama to decide where to reduce spending and where to increase it. They want to restrain the president by giving him more authority?
Growth of executive power is a threat to liberty. Fortunately, Congress can restrain the executive simply by exercising its constitutional powers. The American people must demand that Congress stop passing the buck on its foreign and domestic policy responsibilities. If the people care about liberty, they will demand their representative stand up to the imperial president. Let us hope last week's filibuster will give Congress the backbone it needs to do its job.