Does Congress have any authority left? | The Tylt
President Donald Trump circumvented Congress' constitutional right to control federal spending by declaring a national emergency. After weeks of negotiations and a government shutdown, members of Congress had come to a compromise regarding funding for border security. However, Trump declared a national emergency and gave himself the authority to take money from other military projects and reallocate it to a border wall project, completely undoing Congress' work. Do they have any power left?
Does Congress have any authority left?
The president issued his emergency declaration after Congress failed to approve his demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southwest border as part of the annual Homeland Security spending bill. A stalemate over the issue caused a partial government shutdown earlier this year.
The shutdown ended when Trump signed a spending bill allocating $1.375 billion for border fencing. The emergency declaration would allow him to divert an additional $6.7 billion in funds from other government projects to the border wall.
Not only was one of their foremost constitutional powers stripped away, but according to Washington Post op-ed writer Catherine Rampell, many members of Congress seem more than happy with the outcome.
Federal lawmakers should have been livid at this power grab. Curiously, many were not. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — one of the most powerful people in this supposedly powerful branch of government — declared this a splendid outcome.
So here’s my question to you, fellow taxpayers. If lawmakers are not going to perform their most basic constitutional functions, then what are we paying them (at minimum) $174,000 a year to do? We might as well can them all and save the money.
However, some members of Congress have begun the process of pushing back and reasserting their authority. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signed on to a resolution declaring Trump's emergency declaration unconstitutional. Per the Washington Post:
In a “Dear Colleague” letter, she writes, “President Trump’s emergency declaration proclamation undermines the separation of powers and Congress’s power of the purse, a power exclusively reserved by the text of the Constitution to the first branch of government, the Legislative branch, a branch co-equal to the Executive.”
...She concludes: “All Members take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution. The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated. We have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Constitution, and defend our system of checks and balances against the President’s assault.”
Congress gave the president nearly carte blanche when it came to emergency powers, they are also capable of reigning those powers in. Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard University, wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post that Congress must act swiftly to amend the National Emergencies Act and curtail the president's power.
In the current “emergency” concerning border security, there was time for Congress to act, and Congress acted, achieving a worthy compromise. Against a backdrop of adequate time for congressional deliberation and decision, an emergency declaration is unreasonable and disregards the Constitution’s preference for legislative decision-making wherever possible.
Congress needs to roll back the erosion of its authority, first and foremost by revisiting the National Emergencies Act and amending it to rebalance away from executive flexibility in the direction of legislative authority.