Executive Power

Rand Paul, Ron Wyden Want To End Endless National Emergencies

Under a bill the two senators reintroduced on Friday, all presidential emergency declarations would expire after 72 hours unless Congress votes to allow them to continue.


Have you heard about the newest national emergency?

No, not the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent national emergency was declared just two weeks ago—when President Joe Biden granted himself emergency powers to freeze the property and assets of individuals and businesses connected to Myanmar's military, following an attempted coup in the southeast Asian country.

It didn't make national news. But why would it? It's just one of 34 currently active national emergencies—each coming with its own special powers that the president can use until he decides to stop. The longest-running was invoked by President Jimmy Carter in response to the Iran hostage crisis (which ended in 1981, though the "emergency" never did). Other emergencies authorized by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump are still humming along too, many with no obvious end in sight.

Congress can respond to presidential emergency declarations by disapproving of them after the fact, which it occasionally does. For example, Trump's declaration of a national emergency along America's southern border as a way to redirect funds to the building of a border wall was blocked by Congress in 2019.

But doing so requires a supermajority of both chambers and, generally, Congress can't be persuaded to get off its collective duff. That's why Clinton's 1997 emergency trade embargo against Sudan—a country that obviously represents a serious threat to U.S. national security even 24 years later, natch—is still active. Obama's emergency sanctions targeting Moammar Gadhafi are too, even though he's been dead since 2011.

Congressional inaction and executive power-grabbing are nothing new, of course, but Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) are once again teaming up to try to force that to change. Under a bill the two senators reintroduced on Friday, all presidential emergency declarations would expire after 72 hours unless Congress votes to allow them to continue.

The Reforming Emergency Powers to Uphold the Balances and Limitations Inherent in the Constitution (REPUBLIC) Act effectively flips Congress' role from one of a passive bystander to an active participant. Paul and Wyden say that in cases of true national emergencies there should be no problem convening a session of Congress within three days to approve a presidential declaration, and the consideration of a national emergency would get immediate priority.

"Congress cannot allow any White House to declare phony emergencies just to get around the legislative process envisioned by the Constitution," Wyden said in a statement. The proposal would "reassert Congress' role as a coequal branch of government, while still allowing a president to address real emergencies," he said.

The bill would automatically sunset national emergencies after 90 days unless Congress voted again to renew the emergency declaration. The bill would also repeal Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934—a law written long before cell phones or the internet, but one with language so broad that some legal experts worry it could be effectively used as a "kill switch" for the internet.

Unfortunately, the bill is undermined by the fact that Paul and Wyden propose to exempt some presidential powers, such as those granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which allows presidents to impose sanctions on foreign officials and businesses deemed a threat to American national security. The powers granted by the IEEPA form the basis of many of the 34 ongoing national emergencies, including the most recent declaration issued by Biden.

Still, the Paul/Wyden bill should be part of a broader debate over the balance of power between Congress and the White House—a debate that is long overdue.

As Reason's Peter Suderman highlighted earlier this week, the federal government has been operating in a nonstop crisis mode—sometimes in response to officially declared national emergencies and other times due to its own incompetence—for more than two decades. "These emergencies have become excuses for permanent political power grabs, for restrictions on individual liberties large and small, for mass bureaucratization and mass expansion of government spending, trillions of dollars' worth of non-solutions to deep-rooted problems," Suderman wrote. "With every crisis, government grows. And now the crisis is government itself."

Undoing that permanent state of emergency should be a top priority for anyone concerned about the centralization of power and the executive branch's unilateral decision-making on everything from who gets bombed to who gets bailed out. Setting some basic limits on how long presidential national emergency declarations can last should be relatively low-hanging fruit.

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  2. It’s just one of 34 currently active national emergencies—each coming with its own special powers that the president can use until he decides to stop. The longest-running was invoked by President Jimmy Carter in response to the Iran hostage crisis (which ended in 1981, though the “emergency” never did).

    Calling the Iran hostage crisis an ongoing national emergency would be considered by some to be “misinformation.”

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    2. As would the “emergencies” and powers that governors have exercised for the last year. It’s a lazy-ass or cowardly Congress or State Legislature that can’t convene to handle a true emergency in a matter of a few days tops, and more likely hours. If they don’t, is it truly an emergency, or only an emergency in the opinion of the president/governor? They just don’t want to go through the bother or take the heat as things inevitably get screwed up so they delegate this power to elected and unelected bureaucrats. These emergency powers are supposed to be a stop-gap, not a day to day operational methodology.

      I disagree with the writer slightly though that his exceptions are bothersome. There will always be exceptions to everything, and issues that honestly deal with national security should be much longer than 72 hours. Hell, it can take that long or longer just to get inside intel, let alone parse it out in a meaningful way to the 2/3 of Congress that are certifiable idiots to argue over.

      The bigger problem with this legislation by far is no prohibition against a chief executive reinstituting the exact same or substantially similar emergency order every 72 hours. We saw this shit when Obama did emergency cuts to off-shore drilling and announced that he could write effectively similar orders far faster than any court could overturn them. In other words, he could overrun the system with his pen and phone.

  3. Maybe a national emergency should be called to deal with national emergencies?

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  4. Emergencies are, by definition, emergent. Once it becomes the normal state of affairs it is no longer an emergency. There is no covid emergency, for example. There has been plenty of time for legislatures to determine what actions are appropriate. That should be the only purpose of emergency declarations: to be able to act more quickly than the legislature can in an actual emergency situation. No reason that should last more than a few days unless the legislature got nuked or something.
    This law is a really good idea. States all need one like it. I don’t have a lot of confidence the federal one will pass, though.

    1. I am so often reminded of Twelve Monkeys and the “State of Permanent Emergency.”

      Also the big wench that would pluck you out of your cage for Volunteer Service.

      I would count that movie alongside Brazil as the most prophetic movies of the last half-century.

      1. Winch, that is. Wench would be better, though.

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      2. I need to watch that again. It’s been long enough that I think I have forgotten the surprise.

        1. It nails the idea of passive-aggressive totalitarianism so well it’s downright creepy.

          But for me the big shock in that movie was that Brad Pitt is actually a decent actor.

          1. I still say his best role was in True Romance.

            1. He was awesome in that. Stole every scene he was in. Early on I found him annoying because he’s too cute, and I only knew him from Interview with a Vampire, in which he was very annoying.

              After I saw him in True Romance and Twelve Monkeys I realized his character in Interview with a Vampire was annoying and he’s actually a really good actor, for the most part.

            2. He was also great in Legends of the Fall.

        2. Watch the series from SciFi. Series ended so you can binge it all. Great series.

    2. Exactly. These ongoing “emergency” declarations are ridiculous.

    3. Any “emergency” lasting over a year should result in an automatic impeachment, because the official declaring it (a) is abusing the “emergency” status, and (b) is obviously horrible at combating the “emergency”, since it’s still around after a year even after they used extraordinary powers.

    4. It is such an emergency the democeats had to pass 2 trillion with a 2 am vote where 90% was unrelated to covid and 80% won’t even get spent this year.

  5. LOL, *that* is sure to pass in this century.

    1. And not get vetoed…

  6. OT, but I found this answer from Biden’s pick for U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, to the Senate to be…troublesome.

    … I think that what I would say is that, with respect to the nature of the Chinese challenges, I think it’s clear that when we as Americans, with our economic traditions, look at the Chinese economy, what we see is an extremely formidable competitor, where the state is able to conduct the economy almost like a conductor with an orchestra, whether or not through companies that are officially state-owned, or just companies that are part of the Chinese economy. I think that traditionally, we, in our system, have been very trusting of the free market, of the invisible hand that Adam Smith described, to try in terms of the market forces taking care of our economy and global competition. And I think that what the most recent years has taught us is that we need to revisit how we conduct our economic activity, our cooperation and our trade policies, not to become China, but how to be true to ourselves and our traditions and be more strategic, knowing the quantity and the strategy and ambition we are up against.

    1. “…I think that traditionally, we, in our system, have been very trusting of the free market, of the invisible hand that Adam Smith described,..”

      Not nearly as much as history tells us we should.

    2. Color me shocked that a Biden appointee thinks China is just swell and wouldn’t mind trying more of that socialism here.

    3. Commie cunt.

    4. “And I think that what the most recent years has taught us”

      Of course, we’ll ignore the fact that the more recent we get the more government intervention there’s been.

  7. I was in favor of the bill until I saw it had a ridiculous acronym.

    1. I dunno, I actually kinda liked this one. 😀

      1. It’s pretty amazing tbh

    2. “a ridiculous acronym”

      Did someone call?

  8. The longest was actually when FDR got elected.

  9. Off subject but should be talked about: Texas winter power outages to be followed now by huge bills. Deregulating that market was fine in theory until all the competition went away. Only two retail suppliers dominated the market after years of mergers. For market forces to be effective you have to have competition not monopolies.

    1. Utilities need regulation, as you can’t have 50 sets of power lines on each pole. If the government more or less has to grant a monopoly, they do need to regulate it.

      1. There is no such thing as a natural monopoly — they are all created by the government.

        Even things like power distribution or water distribution can be competitive. Even if they have to be territorial, let people on the edge of the territory choose which provider to go with. The better providers will grow and the poor ones will shrink.

        But people assumed telephone service was a monopoly once, since everyone had to be wired up to the switch. Vast sums of money were wasted wiring everyone up, when waiting a few years for inexpensive wireless communications would have worked better.

        Even power can be distributed, with solar arrays, fuel cells, mini-nuclear generators, whatever.

        1. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for there is no such thing as a natural monopoly. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies – the government. Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

          Here endeth the lesson. Amen.

          1. Sorry, I’m an atheist. Can you name a “natural monopoly” ?

      2. Our lines are owned by a Co-op requiring every user to hold shares which coincidentally has supplied the lowest power cost in the entire nation on top of which comes a yearly shares profit bill credit.

        1. Great until they’re all destroyed in a storm or terrorist attack and you bear the cost of replacing it. Don’t forget to declare that share on your taxes.

          1. And that’s different because; Let me guess Gov-Gods rain new power-poles from the clouds?

    2. That is the lesson learned at the municipal level in the 1890’s by two mayors – Hazen Pingree (Detroit) and Tom Johnson (Cleveland). Then, the battle was over streetcars and electric utility poles. The city would grant some easement/license in order to spur competition. Within months, mergers would eliminate the competition and the terms of the license and the city would have to look to spur competition by granting another license on a different street. Happened six or eight times before they realized the only way to prevent the mergers was for a muni-owned operator to compete. It worked and kept ticket prices low (which was the object for the muni). Until the private operators decided they didn’t want a market with competition – so they sold it all back to the muni-owned operator. Which I’m sure laid the foundation a couple decades later for the muni-owned operator to realize they were the monopolist and should act like one.

      1. “…Happened six or eight times before they realized the only way to prevent the mergers was for a muni-owned operator to compete…”

        IOWs, the city government rigged the arrangement until it fooled idiots like you to assume only a city-run agency could do the job?
        Man, I know you are stupid, but you continue to exceed my expectations!

      2. Now do subways and trains and light rail and freeways. Tax money goes in, pensions get paid, service is terrible.

    3. You know what I find interesting? Last week I read several articles that said that the PUC made ERCOT charge $9000 per Megawatt.

      Now when I search everything I’m finding says that it was all ERCOT and the PUC is totally helpless and blameless.

    4. There’s a company called Gridly that charges customers wholesale prices. Before the storm they told their customers to change services were prices are capped. No one would take them so when the wholesale price went through the roof Gridly customers were screwed.

    5. The problem is that it wasn’t actually deregulated, it was regulated by a simulated market.

      And it was a badly simulated market. They weren’t allowed to take reliability or dispatchability into account when making purchases of electricity, so if a windmill that’s only available 30% of the time at random happened to be cheaper than the nuke plant with 97% availability and all downtime scheduled months in advance, for five minutes on Tuesday, they had to stiff the nuke plant in favor of the windmill.

      It was a perfect recipe for giving producers an incentive not to spend any money on reliability.

  10. well I have to say Rand Paul did a great job on the HHS “them” (hopefully I used the correct pronoun?) as it was obvious surgery or puberty blockers for a youngster who is easily convinced by their woke PR loving mom they are not really the sex they are is immoral and an attack on the youngsters life/liberty. How anyone can support this crap is beyond me..even into teen years most kids are confused, self conscious, not sure who they are and so on…given some tramatic event very susceptible to someone pushing an agenda….good for Rand…he was protecting children against a very very misguided idea. When a youngster reaches adulthood they can make an informed decision on changing their sex.

    1. Well said by Rand and you. This is some sick shit that libertarians should be very concerned about.

    2. The key, IMO, is that something like 90-95+% of them grow out of it.

      Even if you set aside the fact that nobody grows out of being transitioned and that transitioning does nothing to abate the mental disease, the Karens of this country have a terrible policy of medical intervention at great cost combatting diseases that are easily avoidable and/or cure themselves.

    3. Rand should’ve pointed out that the tranny looked like an idiot in a wig spouting nonsense.

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  12. Just wait until the “climate” is declared a national emergency. Will make covid restrictions look like a slap on the wrist.

    1. You’ll stay in your pod, eat your Gates Brand Bugs and Soylent Green, and like it.

    2. So will the violent uprising.

      Serf’s up!

      1. buy ammo now!

  13. F you, Reason


    The FBI stated last month that it processed a record 39.7 million firearm background checks in 2020, which bested the previous high of 10 million. Reports said that as many as 8.5 million purchased their first firearm in 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Meanwhile, a number of gun and ammunition manufacturers reported shortages amid the surge in demand.

    Biden earlier this month said that he would push Congress to enact more gun control measures, including allowing gun manufacturers to face lawsuits, banning “assault weapons,” and placing bans on high-capacity magazines. His pick for Attorney General, Merrick Garland, told lawmakers on Monday that he would support the White House’s stance on gun control.

    “This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer. Today, I am calling on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets,” Biden said earlier this month.

  14. F you, Reason


  15. So – it appears that Rand Paul only jerks his libertarian knee when a D is Prez?

    Whodathunk that split government is better for liberty than this partisan hack bullshit that many of you commenters prefer?

    1. I think we finally found who ENB’s sock is.
      Now call him a racist.

    2. He was actually catching flack for voting against Trump’s emergency resolutions, you do know that, right?

      1. He was arguing relatively consistently against Fauci’s dictats and people dismissed him because he was just an opthalmologist and not an infectious disease/public health “expert”. Nevermind that if China had listened to instead of silencing their opthalmologist, COVID probably never would have left Wuhan.

        1. I think it’s pretty certain that Covid left Wuhan, though not China, before China had any idea what they were facing.

          Our problem is that, at that point they decided, “We’re screwed. We’d better make sure the rest of the world is screwed worse.”

          1. China knew what they were facing when they detected cases in September and October 2019, then stopped internal travel within China at the start of November 2019.

            They didn’t tell the rest of the world or restrict international travel until late January 2020. Even then, they lied about transmissibility.

            It was already spreading internationally in September 2019, though the Chinese never said a word. Blood banks had samples stored that proved it.

            Had the Chinese shared their knowledge they acquired by late October, millions of lives could have been spared. Instead they used that time to stock up on mobile crematorium facilities and protective gear.

  16. If I remember correctly, Sullum told us a couple weeks ago that Rand Paul is a dangerous insurrectionist. Libertarians are all in with Liz Cheney these days. As always I’m waiting for Bill Weld to weigh in before I before I support this legislation.

    1. Reason’s writers are all cosmo types..we review this countless times..they want to get a gig at NYT, WApo, Slate/Salon, Vanity Fair, NYer and so on…..if Reason was actually libertarian they would be screaming about the Fed, and how folks like Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot are the types of media folks who should be cancelle. Oh yeah Cathy Young has a gig here..says a lot

      1. if Reason was actually libertarian they would be screaming…

        That is one good reason many libertarians generally do a crappy job of selling their outlook.

  17. Kamala Harrison Bergeron.

  18. “For example, Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along America’s southern border as a way to redirect funds to the building of a border wall was blocked by Congress in 2019.”

    IIRC, the Congressional resolution was successfully vetoed, so, no, it wasn’t blocked.

  19. I understand the argument that at time there is a need for speed when taking actions. I however disagree a single person having the power to unilaterally declaring a national emergency and having it last for basically forever. I like the notion of national emergencies having a end data such as 72 hrs and there should not be an exceptions. Instead of excluding, simply set a different end data such as 30 days. Likewise every program that congress creates should have a end date specified. There should be a review of the new program after 5 years, to determine if the results resolved the reason for the new program in the first place, what were the unintended consequences, is this a duplicative effort and if it’s even necessary anymore. Government grows because programs become cash cows for cronies and never end. Obviously government can’t self-regulate on their own, so the auditing process needs to be written as law. The other item that irks me, is that Congress exempts themselves from the law they pass for us to follow.

    1. It’s such a terrible oversight of supposedly well-managed systems that it’s embarassing that we don’t have such checks in place already. Of course they would be easy to avoid overcome with (e.g.) continuing resolutions, but the idea that elected officials can’t even be bothered to come up with an end date by which point the problem should be solved is something even grade schoolers should understand.

    2. Executive orders can simply be rewritten every 71 hours, if they successfully pass this bill.

      It accomplishes nothing, unless they specifically leave no ability to write executive orders. They need to remove this power that presidents have bestowed on themselves.

  20. Great idea, should have first been suggested during the Carter administration. I would expand the time to a week vs. 72 hours, but otherwise it’s a great idea. It’s a good first step at rebalancing the branches of government. Congress should be making more decisions than the President.

  21. 9/11 Declaration of Emergency still active though most actors are dead and ISIS was dismantled by Trump and Putin.

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