Pin It

This week a bipartisan group of Members of Congress co-chaired by very our own Congressman Tom Reed introduced a resolution that would amend the National Emergencies Act.  It would require Congress to approve new emergency declarations within 60 days of their being issued.  Essentially, it would limit the executive branch's power to do whatever the heck it wants by declaring an emergency.

The current emergency, which is evidently dire enough to spend over $5 billion (yes, that's a "B") on a wall,doesn't seem like an emergency to most people.  Sure illegal immigration is a problem, and it is probably not being addressed in the most efficient way, and certainly not in the most humane manner.  But a problem is something to be resolved thoughtfully, while emergencies require fast action.  Will the country be irreparably damaged if something -- wall or something else -- isn't done immediately?  Doubtful.  That means it's not an emergency.

The logistics and motives behind the resolution are enough to make your head spin.  First, the motivation for requiring Congressional approval seems to be a matter of who has the power.  As is, the President can circumvent normal channels by declaring an emergency.  Here are some quotes from the coalition putting the resolution forward:

“It is critical that Congress reassert its vested powers, established by Article I of the U.S. Constitution,” Congressman Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), a Democrat, said. “Congress must uphold its duty to check the power of the Executive and provide oversight when a sitting President attempts to circumvent the power of the purse via a national emergency declaration."

“The President’s job is to execute the will of Congress, not the other way around,"Congressman Kurt Schrader (OR-05), also a Democrat, said. "Abusing executive orders or declaring national emergencies, and delegating the necessary funding for them, all fall under Congress’s purview. For too long, Presidents of both parties have usurped Congress’s express constitutional authority to make the law of the land and appropriate taxpayer dollars as your Representatives.”

“This resolution is not a rebuke of President Trump’s national emergency declaration – the drugs, violence and human trafficking speak for themselves in regards to the true crisis we are facing. This resolution speaks to the politicization of Congress and its failure to lead. Instead of proactively solving problems Congress has delegated our precious power away,” said Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23), a Republican. “We must take this power back. Otherwise over time, Congress will be seen as an advisory body instead of the co-equal branch of government the country needs.”

They argue that if Congress is the so-called "People's Branch" of government, it should have the power.  If that's true maybe they're right, though a balance of power is what the Constitution was going for.  This resolution seems as if it will provide balance to some extent.  So political motives aside, it doesn't seem like a bad idea in theory.

But what about in practice?  The logistics of the thing don't make any sense at all.  If my basement is flooding or my septic system fails, it's an emergency.  I need to fix it now.  60 days from now if my spouse wants to veto the expenditure, it's too late.  It's not like there is a 60 day money-back return policy on a septic system.

On the other hand, if there is a spate of new home break-ins in my neighborhood, I can choose to lock my doors and windows, and, perhaps put the guard cat on alert for a while while I research burglar alarm costs and benefits of the systems I have to choose from.  That is not an emergency.  If it takes 60 days I may be burgled, but if I am careful -- put the lights on timers, lock the cars and the doors to the house, maybe install a motion sensor light fixture or two -- I can minimize the problem before it becomes an actual emergency.

It just seems that $5+ billion is a lot of money we'll never get back to spend on what is clearly not an emergency.  And it seems like the 60 days is closing the barn door after the cows have escaped.

On the other hand, I think we all want our president, whoever it happens to be at any given moment, to be able to respond quickly to emergencies.  If nuclear missiles are speeding toward major American cities, we don't want the president to respond 60 days later.  He or she has to be able to act flexibly when situations arise.  If a hurricane decimates an American city we want the President to act quickly to minimize the damage, and begin the rebuilding process. Electing a president is trusting that person to do the right thing when the situation calls for him or her to act quickly.

That has to mean that any elected president takes the meaning of 'national emergency' seriously.  Declaring a national emergency simply to get what you want because Congress won't give it to you isn't right.  Even when the President is right, which he arguably is not in this case, that is not the right way to do it.

So the bipartisan '60 day approval' resolution is largely symbolic, because from a practical standpoint, the emergency is going to be solved one way or another by the time two months has passed.

Pin It