I'm going to start using the Episode title in the blog post title rather than the date. In any case, this is our 8th Curmudgeon's Corner of 2007. This time we did much better from a technical perspective, and you won't hurt your ears listening.
One quick note: Ivan gave me a heads up that he will be out of town and unavailable next weekend, so if anybody wants to volunteer to co-host, let me know. I record Sundays at 16 UTC (That's Noon Eastern, 9 AM Pacific) although the time can be a bit flexible. All that is required (I believe) is an AIM compatible IM client that can do audio chat and a willingness to spend half an hour or so talking about current news or tech related issues. If you are interested, please let me know. If not, next week will be another Sam monologue.
Anyway, this week Ivan and Sam talk about:
In your discussion of Congressional seizure of Harriet Miers, you raised a potential scenario where an executive agency (the Secret Service) would prevent, at gunpoint, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol Police from entering. There's a simple solution to this, and it was the approach that was intended by the way the Constitution divides power. It is the Power of the Purse.
Sure, the Secret Service could defend the White House and keep out the Sergeant-at-Arms. However, Congress could just as easily defund the Secret Service. Or the FBI. And suddenly, it's not possible for those forces to prevent the arrest of Harriet Miers.
What is the procedure with defunding? The defunding would need to be a new spending bill subject to veto right? Unless of course you were just letting existing funding run out without authorizing new funding, but then you'd have to wait for that to happen on whatever timetable that happens, right?
Sure. Congress would either have to take affirmative action to defund, or not fund in the future.
In most cases, a serious threat of defunding is sufficient. If the veto can't be overridden for immediate effect, that is simply the system continuing to work as designed, too. Clearly, the action being defunded was not that ridiculously out-of-line.
It's just that defunding, because it requires waiting for existing funding to run out (if you don't have a large enough majority) is a very long term solution. As you said though, that might be OK.
But if you were trying to force a resolution to an immediate crisis, the time frames might be too great.
Whether or not it's a long-term solution is beside the point. For the most part, the power afforded the Legislature by the Constitution is the power of the purse. It doesn't have the enforcement authority of the Executive.
If the "violation" is clearly egregious, there should be no problem overriding a veto. If the defunding action can't even find a supermajority, it shouldn't be able to take immediate action. That's just the way it's supposed to work.
We're discussing this in reference to a pretty extreme situation. It's important to remember that the federal law enforcement officers we're talking about have been sworn to work within the confines of the Constitution. Taking an action like confronting, rather than working with, other federal law enforcement officers may have serious effects, even if not immediate. When the government self-corrects, it often takes time. It's designed in many cases to take time. Which is fine, because the government is also expected to be here for a while.
I think you are of course right in terms of the way checks and balances should work in general. If there is a fight, but there is not a super-majority, it SHOULD be hard to push through a win directly. (And of course there are other non-legislative approaches that could also be taken.)
I was exploring though the contention that many have made (on both sides) that since a super-majority does not currently exist, that in the face of Administration steadfastness, there really isn't anything the Democrats could do to push their agenda forward, unless and until enough Republicans defect and go against the administration.
I think this looks like it is for the most part true at this point.
Although it would be interesting to see if in the case of the possible direct confrontations what the individuals who would have to actually take action (such as officers directed not to let congress arrest Meirs in the inherent contempt situation, or the actual US Attorney who gets the criminal contempt referral from congress) would do in the cases where they are getting conflicting messages on what the proper thing to do is from their direct superiors vs others.
This could get interesting. Or... it could fizzle into nothing quite quickly.