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Impeachment War, or even the threat of it, has always seemed to give the president more power. In times of war Americans often readily give more power to the president, but once the crisis is over the public then becomes concerned with whether they have created an office that has become imperial. The office of the president has become increasingly more powerful over the last 50-60 years. Even though the power to declare war and send US troops into war belonged to Congress there have many presidents who have chosen to disregard that point and enter our country into war. Recent history has shown that there have been several occasions when the president has taken upon himself to deploy troops or order attacks, without even as much as consulting Congress.

One president was able to trick the Congress into entering into war, and still others have informed Congress after the fact. In 1950, President Harry Truman dispatched troops to South Korea after it had been invaded by Communist North Korea, without a declaration of war from Congress. Facing re-election in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, wanting to be seen as taking a hard stance on Communism entered a war he never really supported in the first place. In recently released, secretly recorded tapes, Johnson dicussing Viet Nam is heard telling his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, ” It looks to me like were getting into another Korea, I dont see what we can ever hope to get out of there with once were committed…I dont think its worth fighting for and I dont think we can get out, and its just the biggest damn mess.” (Scheer) But within three months of his statement, Johnson entered the US into the Viet Nam War. Johnson was able to enter the US into the Viet Nam War by withholding information form Congress.

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American ships had reported a possible attack by the North Vietnamese. That report turned out to be in error, a fact that President Johnson knew about, but withheld from Congress for three days in order to persuade them to pass the Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution. President Johnson had presented the resolution to Congress as just an authorization to repel North Vietnamese attacks. That resolution gave the president the power to do what he thought was needed militarily. President Johnson immediately ordered the bombing of North Vietnamese naval bases, resulting in the US being drawn full scale into the Viet Nam War.

In 1973, Congress had enough and reclaimed the war making power when they passed, over the veto of President Richard Nixon, the War Powers Resolution. The War Powers Resolution called for the President to consult Congress at least 48 hours in advance before sending military forces into imminent danger. Congress must also approve the continued deployment of troops or weapons within 60 days or the president must pull them out. (Church) However, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter ignored the resolution when he launched a mission in hopes of rescuing American hostages being held in the Middle East. It was only after the bombers were in the air and nearing their targets that Carter informed Congress.

Eight servicemen died in a mission that was eventually aborted. The next president, Ronald Reagan, more than once refused to seek Congressional approval before sending US troops to foreign countries. Reagan ordered the invasion of Granada to protect American medical students. Reagan also sent warships to the Persian Gulf and defended his actions by contending that because the situation was non-imminent he had the power to deploy troops without the permission of Congress. Following Reagans presidency, President George Bush also sent troops to foreign soil without the approval of Congress.

President Bush sent troops to invade Panama because of escalating violence against Americans there. In 1994, President William Clinton ordered a military invasion of Haiti to overthrow the government there without even consulting Congress. That mission, like Carters was also aborted.(Schell) Clinton never had the full support of Congress when he entered Somolia or Bosnia. Bill Cohen, a political commentary, describes this type of behavior by these presidents best when he says: “When Congress is not informed, or misinformed, when it is advised of actions long after they have occurred, the system of checks and balances is arrested. Democratic government, in effect, deteriorates toward dictatorship.” Another example of the Executive Branch taking matters into their own hands and disregarding the Constitution is the Iran-Contra Scandal.

The scandal came about when it was revealed that President Reagan and Vice President Bush had secretly negotiated with Iran for the release of hostages. Reagan and Bush had agreed to send arms(missiles) through and intermediary to Iran in exchange for the hostages. This arrangement was clearly against US policy. The Iran-Contra episode involved extensive lawbreaking, perjury, cover-up and a betrayal of the constitution.(Government) Again I go to Bill Cohen to best describe the situation: “When an Administration adopts objectives whose goals, however defensible, are at odds with the actions taken by Congress, or with its own publicly acknowledged positions, it embarks on a perilous course. Subordinates of any President are motivated primarily by a desire to carry out his wishes, whatever the consequences. Without an appreciation of the balance between the branches, such subordinates may be ignoring the law, even if it means taking actions which violate publicly stated US policy.” Another issue that lends itself to the idea of an Imperial Presidency is that of the line-item veto. On June 1, 1997, a new law came into effect that allowed the president to reject specific items in appropriation bills, new entitlement programs, and special interest tax breaks without vetoing the entire bill.

Existing entitlement programs such as Medicare and entitlement programs affecting more than 100 people are protected and could not be touched. The first president to have this freedom of line-item veto is President Bill Clinton, the man who actually signed the bill into law.(Grolier 1997) Proponents of this law say it will let President Clinton cut unnecessary or”pork-barrel” spending. “Pork-barrel” spending is appropriations obtained by senators and congressmen for their states or districts. Proponents say that the President could cut this type of spending out of a bill without vetoing the entire bill, bringing discipline to the budgeting process.(Dodge) But opponents of the line-item veto have fears over the shifting of power from Capitol Hill to the White House. The line-item veto gives the president enormous leverage against Congress when the two branches of government are wrangling.(Welch) The President can indeed use this new law to cut spending, but the real danger lies in what else he may be able to achieve with it. The President could use it to put pressure on lawmakers to confirm his appointees to the courts, the Cabinet, or Ambassadors.

The President could also use the threat of a line-item veto to win support for his versions of laws, programs and treaties. There are those who feel that members of Congress will no longer oppose the president even on such issues as foreign policy in fear of retaliation on their home state projects.(Line) Senator Patrick Moynihan, a leading opponent of the line item veto, said: “In the history of the Constitution there has never come before us an issue considering the relations between executive and legislative branches as important as this one.”(Mauro) However, the line-item veto has serious constitutional problems. In Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution it states that Congress passes bills and the president may veto them. It does not say “part of a bill” or “individual lines of a bill” it says “bill”.”(Matthew) In March of 1998, John Murtha finished his testimony before the Congress regarding the line-item veto by saying: ” Let me conclude by saying the Constitution is clear, appropriation bills start in the house, and if passed by the senate, the bill is confrenced, repassed by both bodies and sent to the President where he can sign or veto the bill. Anything less, changes the balance which was set up under the constitution, and if it is to be changed it can only be changed by a constitutional amendment.”(Line) On June 25, 1998 the Supreme Court agreed with Murtha.

The Court ruled that a true line-item veto would take a Constitutional amendment and the 82 times that Clinton had used it had been unconstitutional.(Kenyon) The line item-veto had unconstitutionally shifted power from Congress to the president. Supporters of the line-item veto have already introduced new legislation to restore the presidents ability to limit congressional spending. Unfortunately, the bipartisan phenomenon of an imperial presidency is still able to avoid the safeguards set up in the constitution and abuse their powers in a way that benefits their own objectives. Les Aspin warned of “crazed dictators” while testifying during the Iran-Contra hearings. His warning is just as applicable today: “It behooves Congress to use this interlude to dismantle the infrastructure of subterranean government, where the opportunity for so much abuse lurks.”.


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