Government Spending

Who's the Leader of the Cult That's Made for You and Me?

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Columnist George Will on Sunday criticized what our own Jacob Sullum has been hammering on about in recent days: that President Bush's executive decision to bail out the Big 2.5 automakers is an(other) affront to the constitutional separation of powers. Here's Will:

The expansion of government entails an increasingly swollen executive branch and the steady enlargement of executive discretion. This inevitably means the eclipse of Congress and attenuation of the rule of law.

For decades, imperatives of wars hot and cold, and the sprawl of the regulatory state, have enlarged the executive branch at the expense of the legislative. For eight years, the Bush administration's "presidentialists" have aggressively wielded the concept of the "unitary executive"—the theory that where the Constitution vests power in the executive, especially power over foreign affairs and war, the president is immune to legislative abridgements of his autonomy. […]

Most members of the House and Senate want the automakers to get the money, so they probably are pleased that the administration has disregarded Congress's institutional dignity. History, however, teaches that it is difficult for Congress to be only intermittently invertebrate.

Recent Reason writing on executive power here. And it's always worth re-reading our June 2008 excerpt/adaptation from Gene Healy's The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, which Will described as "the year's most pertinent and sobering public affairs book."



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  1. Recently, I’ve found myself agreeing with Will more than I’ve disagreed with him.

  2. Recently, I’ve found myself agreeing with Will more than I’ve disagreed with him.

    The man does not throw principles overboard when it’s convenient. Whether you agree or disagree with him, you should admire his honesty.

  3. I really like the column’s lede…

    A new Capitol Visitor Center recently opened, just in time for the transformation of the Capitol building into a tomb for the antiquated idea that the legislative branch matters. The center is supposed to enhance the experience of visitors to Congress, although why there are visitors is a mystery.

  4. I agree with the inference of the title, Matt. Congress is a Mickey Mouse Club operation.

  5. “”” Bush administration’s “presidentialists” have aggressively wielded the concept of the “unitary executive” — the theory that where the Constitution vests power in the executive, especially power over foreign affairs and war, the president is immune to legislative abridgements of his autonomy. “””

    The “presidentialists” have ignore the Constituition when it gives authority to Congress. An example is who gets to make the rules about detainess captured in combat. They would argue the President, yet the Constitution gives the authority to Congress. The presidentialists have created constitutional authority where none exists.

    Congress NOT the President has the authority to,

    To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

    To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

    To provide and maintain a navy;

    To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

    To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

  6. One of 3 things will happen:

    1) Congress does nothing except whine and the handout goes forward. (most likely).
    2) Congress amends TARP to make the handout completely legal (and thus TARP meaningless).
    3) Congress calls Bush’s bluff and cuts off funding for TARP (yeah, right–though it may already be too late for that even if Congress did find the stones to act).

  7. JW, I agree that option (1) is by far the most likely. Its the best of both worlds for Congress – what most of them wanted to happen, happened, and they get to avoid responsibility.

    Option (2) would cut off Congress’s ability to complain and require them to take responsibility, so it ain’t gonna happen.

    Option (3) only happens if Congress replaces the TARP funding with a different source and program requirements, which as we have seen Congress cannot do, and would also require them to take some responsibility.

  8. We just don’t understand, remember? The POTUS is doing the responsible thing, and we’re just slaves to our ideology, which is all fine and good as long as circumstances are normal, but these are not normal circumstances.

    Is that about right?

  9. Well Congress and the Courts are not exactly living up to their constitutional roles.

    What is Congress’s argument here. “We are the ones who have the constitutional right to take money from some citizens and give it to private corporations.”

  10. If Congress decided that, after 8 years of rolling over and playing dead, they wanted to finally stand up to an executive branch that brazenly ignored them, they’d repeal the TARP legislation immediately.

    Not going to happen, though, since the Democrats want to suck up to those swing Rust Belt states and bail out the Big 2.5, and Bush is doing their dirty work for them.

    The political downside to all this for the Democrats is that should GM and Chrysler go under, it will now likely happen on Obama’s watch. So the Democrats will have a strong incentive to turn them into zombie corporations, kept alive by huge infusions of cash at regular intervals.

  11. The political downside to all this for the Democrats is that should GM and Chrysler go under, it will now likely happen on Obama’s watch. So the Democrats will have a strong incentive to turn them into zombie corporations, kept alive by huge infusions of cash at regular intervals.

    If they keep funneling them money, even more people will be against each bailout. They’d be handing massive ammunition to their opponents come election time.

    Frankly, I can’t tell if Bush is trying to push the collapse onto Obama’s watch, or if he’s just being a douchebag. With Congress not bothering to stop him in any way, of course.

  12. Somewhat related –

    Game over for GM stockholders

    The game is over for holders of General Motors Corp.’s existing stocks and bonds, Credit Suisse auto analyst Chris Ceraso wrote in a note to investors today.

    Ceraso downgraded Credit Suisse’s rating of GM from neutral to underperform and dropped its target price for the stock to $1 from $2.

    GM may “survive” like Kmart did.

  13. Episiarch,

    It only hurts the first few tiems you’re beaten. After that, a numb acceptance takes over and you notice the pain less and less, especially if you know its coming. The Dems could keep the Big 2.5 alive indefinitely and eventually the public would lose hold of its anger and accept it as a normal course of events. Like the waves on a rock, petty tyranny need only be constant and mildly painful to gain the advantage.

  14. “”””The Dems could keep the Big 2.5 alive indefinitely and eventually the public would lose hold of its anger and accept it as a normal course of events.””””

    As long as it appears to be working.

  15. TrickyVic,

    And how long did BL survive?

  16. The political downside to all this for the Democrats is that should GM and Chrysler go under, it will now likely happen on Obama’s watch. So the Democrats will have a strong incentive to turn them into zombie corporations, kept alive by huge infusions of cash at regular intervals.

    National railroad? Check
    National bank/investment house/lender? Check, check and check
    National auto maker? Check
    National health care? Check*
    National airline? Waiting on Delta/United/etc.
    Blaming previous administration while absolving same-party members in Congress? Check

    *Give it time.

  17. Ceraso downgraded Credit Suisse’s rating of GM from neutral to underperform and dropped its target price for the stock to $1 from $2.

    So how much longer will GM be traded on the NYSE? Don’t they have standards for market cap, share prices, etc.?

  18. “””TrickyVic,

    And how long did BL survive?”””

    I give. How long?

  19. British Leyland (1968-2005) Granted by the late 90’s the corporation was selling off chunks of itself, but still the zombie corporation lived for 30 years on government life support and rarely if ever turned a profit.

    http://www.aronline.co.uk/index.htm?wsindexf.htm

  20. So how much longer will GM be traded on the NYSE? Don’t they have standards for market cap, share prices, etc.?

    GM stock performance today.
    3.52 -0.97 (-21.60%) Dec 22 4:01pm ET

  21. Did they do the sprites? We called them bug-eyed sprites when I was a kid.

    Would we support a zombie company for 30 years? Probably. I agree with your 1:47 post.

  22. TrickyVic:
    “The presidentialists have created constitutional authority where none exists.”

    No they haven’t; they BROKE THE LAW.

  23. Whether you like George Will or not, it is nice hearing someone with some principles on shows like This Week with George Stuffanupolus.

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