WASHINGTON: The Republican Party used to stand for fiscal responsibility and a respect for the Constitution. Specifically the separation of powers into executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Fear of an all-powerful executive reaches back to the 13 colonies rebellion against the arbitrary power of King George lll. Republican’s have given resistance to the expansion of executive power during the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.
Of course, it was Democrats who expanded the executive authority and increased the national debt in those years.
Republican’s in power
Now, with Republicans in power, it is difficult to see what political philosophy is manifesting itself. During the second week in February, the national debt went past $22 trillion, a record high. During the first two years of the Trump administration, Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, the debt increased by more than $2 trillion, in part because of the $1.5 trillion tax cut and large spending increases.
Republicans, who sharply criticized the growth of federal spending under President Obama as unaffordable and dangerous, are now silent.
Conservatives who do not view themselves as Republican partisans maintain their concern. Michael A. Peterson, the president of the Peter G.Peterson Foundation, a leading advocacy group for debt reduction, noted the $22 trillion milestones with a statement that said the federal debt “threatens the economic future of every American”
The government’s borrowing has real costs, notably the need to make interest payments to investors. Those payments now exceed $1 billion a day.
Trump declares a National Emergency
Beyond the debt we already have, President Trump declares a national emergency in order to access billions of dollars. Money that Congress refuses to give him to build a wall on the border with Mexico. In doing so, the president ignores warnings from many Republican and conservative voices.
In early February, Senate Majority Leader ‘Mitch McConnell warned the president that such a move would divide the Republican Party. Sen.John Cornyn (R-TX) says he opposes an emergency declaration in part because of what it might embolden a future Democratic president to do. At least a half-dozen Republican senators are expressing their opposition to the declaration of an emergency.
The President has pointed to nearly five dozen previous instances in which presidents of both parties have declared emergencies, What he is now doing is indeed unprecedented. None of the times emergency powers have been invoked since 1976, the year Congress enacted the National Emergency Act, involved the president making an end run around Congress.
In doing so, the president is challenging the constitutional principle that the legislative branch controls the government purse.
The powers of the Consitution
Chris Edelson, an American University government professor and author of “Emergency Presidential Power: From The Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror,” points out that,
“On the surface, this ‘Oh, other presidents did this, too’ line seems logical. However, there is no example where a president asked for funding for something from Congress, and Congress said ‘No,’ and the president said, ‘I’ll use emergency powers to do it anyway.'”
The Constitution clearly states,
“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” Article l, section 9, clause 7 is popularly known as “the power of the purse.”
James Madison called it “a weapon” arming “the immediate representatives of the people” against the sweeping power of the President.
Conservatives are concerned about the growth of executive power.
Kay Coles James, president of The Heritage Foundation, says of the President’s declaration of a national emergency:
“This creates a dangerous precedent for future administrations.” In 2011, the Heritage Foundation’s “Guidance for Lawmakers” told them that their power of the purse means that presidents “can’t spend what you don’t approve.”
In the view of Peter Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University, “The power of the purse is the most important checking and balancing tool that the Congress holds with respect to the separation of powers.”
In any constitutional test of the president’s emergency order, a critical framework will be 1952 decision in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, which struck down President Harry S. Truman’s seizure of American steel plants.
Under the Youngstown test, a president who exercises power “incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress” is in trouble. His power is “at the lowest ebb,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote.
How does the National Emergency effect the right of private property?
Another concern of many conservatives is how the emergency order would challenge the right of individuals to their private property. Much of the land the president needs to build the wall is in private hands. The president is unable to take private property to build something” without the permission of Congress, says Robert Turner, a conservative lawyer and member of The Federalist Society.
“My sense is this going to be a hard fight for the president. I can’t say I am certain he is going to lose. However, it would surprise me if he wins.”
Using eminent domain to confiscate private property is something Republicans have traditionally viewed as a threat to the free market.
Others wonder how an administration dedicated to strengthening our military preparedness is willing to take $6.1 billion from the Pentagon. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, notes that the Pentagon recently said the military had a maintenance backlog of more than $116 billion, with 23 percent of the department’s facilities in poor condition and 9 percent in failing condition. In a letter to the Secretary of Defense. Kaine noted that
“I am concerned that a project that the president stated would be paid for by Mexico will now be borne by military service members and their families, as they will be forced to remain in ‘poor’ or ‘failing’ conditions.'”
All of this is beside the question of whether or not there is indeed an “emergency” at the border.
Concerning illegal border crossings, things have improved in recent years.
Illegal crossings between ports of entry, as measured by Border Patrol arrests along the Mexican border, have steadily declined in recent years. In 2000 the number was 1.6 million. In the most recent fiscal year, the number was below 400,000.
Most illegal drugs that enter the country from Mexico are discovered at legal crossing points, not in remote areas where a wall would serve as a deterrent. Vice President Pence wrote an opinion piece in January in USA Today in which he reported that most seizures of illegal narcotics are “primarily at points of entry.”
According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 10.7 million unauthorized migrants were in the country in 2016, about 1.5 million fewer than in 2007.
Legal Points of Entry
What has increased are the families presenting themselves at legal points of entry to seek asylum, fleeing from drugs, crime, and violence in their native Central American countries.
Under U.S. and international law, these people have a right to ask for asylum and have their cases evaluated.
These are the so-called “caravans” the president has discussed.
Whether any of this constitutes a “crisis” or an “emergency” is, of course, a matter of opinion. In a democratic society, people will disagree. Perhaps a wall across the Mexican border would make us safer. If, as president, Mr. Trump believes this is the case, it is his job to convince a majority of Congress that this is true and requires action.
Mr. Trump had two years in which Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. He was unable to convince Congress to provide funding for a wall. It is no surprise that with Democrats now in control of the House, there is even less support for a wall. This is how democracy works.
However, the president, unable to convince either a Republican or a Democratic majority to fund a wall has simply decided to take the money from other legitimate appropriations.
We don’t know how all of this will end’.
The issue will be debated in the Congress and cases will be brought in the courts.
The president may win, or he may lose. The question for Republicans is whether they still believe in balanced budgets, limited government and our constitutional system of checks and balances or do they only support these ideas when the other party in power?
How Republicans respond to these developments will tell us a great deal about our two-party system, and whether or not a new, genuinely conservative party is needed to provide, as the Goldwater Republicans once said, “a choice not an echo.”
Lead Image: Screenshot from What do Republicans Believe?