A Modest Proposal

James Baker and Warren Christopher have an idea for a replacement for the War Powers Act. The main problem, as they see it, is that the act is unconstitutional (for what it’s worth, the courts seem to agree). So what do they propose instead? Um, this:

To guarantee that the president consults with a cross section of Congress, the act would create a joint Congressional committee made up of the leaders of the House and the Senate as well as the chairmen and ranking members of key committees. These are the members of Congress with whom the president would need to personally consult. Almost as important, the act would establish a permanent, bipartisan staff with access to all relevant intelligence and national-security information.

Congress would have obligations, too. Unless it declared war or otherwise expressly authorized a conflict, it would have to vote within 30 days on a resolution of approval. If the resolution of approval was defeated in either House, any member of Congress could propose a resolution of disapproval. Such a resolution would have the force of law, however, only if it were passed by both houses and signed by the president or the president’s veto were overridden. If the resolution of disapproval did not survive the president’s veto, Congress could express its opposition by, for example, using its internal rules to block future spending on the conflict.

Oh, wow! A two-thirds majority of Congress can block a military action! That’s an amazing and totally achievable method for preventing presidential overreach. But hey, if they don’t get a supermajority, they can block funding, because the past two years have definitely shown that cutting off funds is politically possible. And consultation committee – whoo! That would have required Bush to “consult” with two whole war opponents (Carl Levin and Bob Graham). He would have met with a lot more war supporters, of course (Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Ike Skelton, Tom Lantos, Joe Biden, Jane Harman, and every Republican leader and committee chair), but, eh, that goes with the territory.

Look, if Baker and Christopher want to water down the War Powers Act, that’s fine. They freely admit that there’s no reason to think that this is any more constitutional than the WPA. This shouldn’t be a problem for enforcement; in basically every major military endeavor since the act’s passing, the president has sought Congressional authorization in spite of their belief in the act’s unconstitutionality, so these acts are effective in shaming presidents into compliance. But if Baker and Christopher want to make it easier for the president to ignore Congress on issues of war and peace, they ought to say that, and not cloak it in this “the system’s broken, here’s a disinterested way to fix it” crap. Personally, I think the Bush experience has shown that we need stricter, not looser, congressional checks against presidential power, but I’d be happy to have that debate. As it stands, Baker and Christopher are being disingenuous about their goal, and so it’s hard to engage them in good faith.

P.S. Oh god, Broder’s supporting it now. I suppose I should have expected this would happen, given how happy and shiny and bipartisan it is.

2 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. I thought the Baker/Christopher proposal was a bit of a head scratcher. It doesn’t really deal with the major issues, and I don’t see how it would be more Constitutional then the status quo. Consultations? How about requiring Congress to read the intelligence reports they already get.
    The war powers act, in practice, gives the executive more power then it would otherwise have. To extent it’s possible liberals should focus on getting rid of it completely.

  2. On Point with Tom Ashbrook did a show on this shiny, Broder present yesterday with Doris Kearns Goodwin and Slade Gordon (who apparently hasn’t found a commission he won’t serve on) cheerleading for this new proposal. Not surprisingly the program seemed a bit wispy since everyone seemed to agree it wouldn’t fix any of the problems we’ve faced in recent years. The utterly despicable Robert F. Turner slouched on mic for a few minutes to give the necessary Cheney perspective.

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