Who Has More Power, Congress or the President, and Why the Office of the US President Is Now Under Threat
In this essay, I’m going to discuss who has more power now, Congress or the president, and why the office of the president of the United States is now under threat to a limited extent.
It is argued that the office of the US president is now imperiled as the use of checks and balances outlined in the Constitution remain. Regular congressional bills being overridden and due to democracy in the US Congress, presidents may find it difficult to advance in their agendas. Consequently, Congress can be argued to hold more significant power than incumbents. This is evidenced through President Bush’s congressional bills being overridden four times. It was especially portrayed when the expanded powers of the Bush administration were largely a consequence of the 9/11 attacks, and only applied in a narrow range of policy relating to national security; even on some national security issues it was forced to compromise. This is significant as it highlights that the president is able to be held accountable and there are checks and balances in place by the legislative to ensure that powers are not abused by the office of the US president, making them imperiled. However, this is unconvincing and rather weak, as fundamentally in practice, the office of the US president has on the contrary shown that it is a highly imperial body through its power of veto. This exclusive power maximizes control the president has and allows them to make decisions without the need of Congress. Moreover, the lack of exclusive influence of the elected legislative body, but from the president highlights the capability of the incumbent, as surely the democratically voted legislative should hold significant power. This is demonstrated again, through President Bush. Although Congress was able to override 4 bills, 12 bills were vetoed by Bush, emphasizing that the 23 majority votes that Congress has, is not entirely effective. This was also significant in 2003, where George ordered an invasion of Iraq, with administration officials arguing that the Saddam Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, when really, no WMD stockpiles were ever found. Essentially, this was a congressional power, which the incumbent took over. This argument is greatly enhanced by the prevalence of exclusive presidential powers proving to be more effective than congressional powers. Therefore, this clearly demonstrates the implausibility of the view that the office of the US president is now imperiled, hence undoubtedly, the office of US president is imperial.
Secondly, it is argued that office of the US president is now imperiled as Congress can constrain the president by withdrawing funding ‘power of the purse’. Power of the purse tends to be the most powerful congressional check on the office of the US president, formally charging a high ranked official with the need of a super majority. This can be evidenced in recent years, through President Donald Trump. In recent years, Trump asked for $5.7 billion to build a wall for his anti-immigration policies, blocking off the Mexican border. After that, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, denied his request and so Trump experienced a federal shutdown. This is significant as it highlights the theoretical power of the spending of funding a president has access to. Essentially, the incumbent’s power is limited and imperiled as, the legislative can control where the incumbent chooses to spend their funding. However, this is unconvincing and rather weak, as fundamentally in practice, the office of the US president has on the contrary shown that it is highly imperial through the use of its informal power of impoundment. The use of impoundment is commonly used amongst presidents, in order to detain funds in the treasury rather than spending them as appropriated. The president’s ability to indefinitely reject congressionally approved spending, indicates the informal power of the president of the United States, going against the legislative. This was demonstrated through the perceived abuse of power from President Nixon. Congress had felt that Nixon was abusing his authority to impound the funding of programs he passed. In response to this, Congress had even then passed ‘The Impoundment Control Act of 1974’. However, even this legislation was cumbersome. With 43 states in the US still being able to give their governors authority not to spend money allocated by the state legislature. This is salient in identifying the fact that informal powers still hold weight when it comes to the office of the US president. Although the power of the purse is effective in controlling the spending of the funds, the prevalence of US president’s still being able to detain these funds, is far more plausible, hence supporting the argument that the office of the US president is imperiled to a limited extent.
Lastly, it is argued that the office of the US president is imperiled as the use of the congressional check of impeachment formally charges high ranking officials, including presidents. The two-part process requires voting of 23 or more of a majority from the 100-member senate, in order to impeach an official. If successful, it enables the legislative branch to significantly charge the executive and so it acts as a warning to those who hold public office. Moreover, presidents are therefore hostile when making certain decisions, as they are wary of the accountability they hold. The effectiveness of impeachment is evidenced by the sex scandal with Bill Clinton in 1998. Congress has voted to commence impeachment, after Clinton had committed ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ against White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The scandalous affair signifies that presidential power cannot be abused and is scrutinized. However, this is unconvincing and rather weak, as fundamentally in practice, the office of the US president has on the contrary shown that it is highly difficult to impeach a high ranking official, especially a president. The power of Congress requires a very difficult 23 majority, as was seen with the power to override a veto too. The process essentially has a built-in impediment that may ensure that none, but the most glaring examples of malpractice will be successfully pursued. This is demonstrated through the fact that only two presidents have ever been impeached (Andrew Johnson in the 1860s and Bill Clinton in 1998), and in neither case could the Senate muster the required majority. Especially with Bill Clinton, the Senate were divided along party lines. This highlights the imperial feature of the incumbent, as it indicates that presidents are more likely not to fear impeachment as they are aware of the rarity of the legislative check. Therefore, this clearly demonstrates the implausibility of the view that the office of the US president is imperiled, hence undoubtedly the president is imperial.
After weighing up both sides of the argument, the evidence suggests that the office of the US president is imperiled to a limited extent. While Congress holds a significant amount of power over the incumbent, and is able to hold them to account, it is not powerful enough. With informal powers of the US president, and the inability of Congress to gain a majority vote to override or impeach, the role of the US president proves to be highly imperial.
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