Watchdog Blog

Rose Rappoport Moss: Cut funding? Yes, for the White House

Posted at 6:24 pm, February 19th, 2007
Rose Moss Mug

I grew up in South Africa and saw how the apartheid government consolidated power in the executive. When I became an American, impressed with the skill of the Founding Fathers in devising a system that would resist dictatorship, I came to admire the division of powers as one of our Constitution’s most brilliant insights.

But since 9/11, Bush and Cheney have seized more and more power for the executive. The war in Iraq is serving as a means to that end.

At first, Congress didn’t resist the President’s claims. Now, disenchanted with the war and dismayed by another round of bellicose language, this time directed at Iran, many in Congress are expressing concern. They recognize the executive power-grab, but don’t know how to thwart it.

The Constitution vests the power to make war in the Congress, but Congress accepted a mere form of debate before allowing Bush to take America to war in Iraq. It did not declare war. Now the question facing Congress is how to get out of Iraq and, it seems, how to stop the White House from starting a war with Iran or even Syria.

One way to curb the imperial aggrandizement of the Executive is the third branch. The Supreme Court and a number of judges have warned that the Executive does not have a blank check. In spite of their claims otherwise, both Bush and Cheney remain subject to the law.

But the law is slow and our Constitution is in such danger that Congress must act quickly.

There’s an important, unfulfilled role for the press here. With this Administration so deft at doing things out of sight, the press needs to do a better job of reporting on Administration mischief, such as signing statements, recess appointments and unauthorized surveillance. It needs to keep a steady light on the Administration’s appetite for total control, such as a recent White House order requiring each executive agency to have “a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee.” We can guess what that means from recent Administration attempts to corrupt science on matters like climate change. The White House wants total control, like the apartheid government I recall, like totalitarian regimes.

We need a vigilant press to alert us to more moves in the White House’s reciprocal cycle of power grabbing at home and abroad.

Cheney says, referring to possible Congressional restraints on the Iraq war, “They won’t stop us.” Bush makes friendly gestures to new leaders in the Congress but proceeds with more power-grabs. They want to appoint more officials without seeking Congressional approval. Who knows what else? They aren’t timid.

Some people think impeachment the only way to halt the White House, but our recent experience of impeachment has made many Americans shy from that remedy.

We have another Constitutional way – the power of the purse. Right now most choices seem to involve cutting funds for the troops, but almost no one thinks that fair to men and women who risk their lives in the military

Let me suggest another course for Congress. Continue to fund the troops. Cut the White House. No Air Force One. No Air Force Two. No semi-secret spy agency operating out of Cheney’s office. No salaries for Cabinet officers, especially those like Gonzalez who aid and abet the transformation of the Presidency into an imperial dictatorship.

Let the White House feel the power of the people’s disapproval directly. No expenditures on banquets at the White House. No junkets to foreign countries.

Congress has never used the power of the purse to control the executive this way and there may be constitutional questions about whether it can. The debate itself would point to questions about how Bush and Cheney are using their powers in ways that undermine the Constitution. There may be more. Aren’t these areas for the press to explore, say by interviewing constitutional scholars? A press that respects its power as the fourth estate may renounce the corrupting glamour of access for the glamour of defending the freedom of all.

Restore power to the people – specifically, We, the People – who have just voted against the war in Iraq and would vote, if called to, against provoking war with Iran.

If the Congress does not restrain this Administration it allows a deadly threat to this democracy. The Administration’s power grabs have grown to a constitutional crisis in just a few years. Their appetite will continue to grow, exponentially, until we have lost democracy here while deluded that we are bringing it to the Middle East. Congress and the fourth estate must act to restrain the White House.

3 Responses to “Cut funding? Yes, for the White House”

  1. Stephen Zane Marder says:

    I wrote this as a comment to another blog, but I think it applies here also.
    This is disturbing. It seems to me that the press is mounting a token effort to pressure the President for his plans in Iran. There is certainly more debate on television, but the President’s administration shows signs of simply ignoring public opinion on this point. What’s to stop him from just ignoring everyone, and acting. He’s done it before. Once Congress gave him the “any means nessesary” authority he has acted with almost no restraint. I’m not in journalism or politics, but I really don’t understand why people seem reluctant to discuss amending the resolution to go to war on terror. It’s clear that Congress surrendered too much authority to the President. I don’t think anyone can stop him until that issue is addressed.
    Aren’t the current operations in Iraq falling outside the category of “fighting terrorism”? Why doesn’t the press nail President Bush to wall on his use of language in this respect?
    It seems that anyone that conducts operations against the U.S. forces is automatically a terrorist, and in some way linked to Bin Laden. I believe the administration wants to label any and everything “terrorism” to satisfy defense contractors. I think the President keeps the nuclear option “on the table” for one simple reason; to maintain a high level of operations as long as possible in and around Iran, because every day this goes on the defense industry makes many millions. I can’t help but to think some of this money will find it’s way back to Bush and Cheney at end of their term.

  2. David bOWMAN says:

    The fundamental problem is that democracy is inherently ‘limited’. It is and always will be limited by the powerful and the rich. All forms of government suffer from the same problem. The press will only do what is ‘safe’ for it to do. In such an oppresive administration, the press has been of little use to us in keeping the general public properly informed. Balance in the press must come from an internationalization of mass media available the average US resident. Sadly, few people in this country take advantage of the internet or international satellite channels to see other perspectives. Fewer still speak or understand another language.

    The black and white lines of the so called rule of law, freedom of the press and individual rights are always blurred by tyrants.

  3. David bOWMAN says:

    Congress didn’t have the courage to vote down the original war authorization and the press didn’t adequately present any but the administration’s case. I guess that now that the polls swing against Bush, Cheney, et. al. it’s safer for both the Democrats and the press. A lack of moral fiber.

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