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Fisher: No Labels Would Hurt Separation of Powers

Finally, No Labels wants to empower the president to send legislation to Congress twice a year that could not be amended but only approved or rejected. Such a procedure would undermine the deliberative process in Congress and the system of representative government. Congress should not permit a president to drive the legislative agenda in this manner. One can imagine presidents and executive officials meeting privately with selected lawmakers to have their particular needs included in the president’s bill, thus building advance Congressional support. Another step toward “more transparency and accountability in the legislative process?” Hardly.

In “Make Congress Work!,” No Labels claims it does not “favor any party or particular cause.” Yet its partiality for the president is evident. It recalls that on Aug. 5, 2011, Congress “had collectively lost its mind” by putting America’s credit at risk. The debt ceiling crisis turned Congress into “one of the least respected institutions in the United States.” There is a pressing need, it says, “to fix our broken Congress.”

Nowhere does the report confront the broken presidency, including going to ruinous wars on false intelligence (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq) and a sustained failure by recent presidents to address budget deficits that threaten the nation. By assigning all political and constitutional ills to Congress, No Labels asks us to trust in presidential power without explaining why. The record does not show that we have been blessed by competent, effective, reliable and honest chief executives.

Louis Fisher is scholar in residence at the Constitution Project, after serving in the Library of Congress for four decades as senior specialist in separation of powers at the Congressional Research Service and specialist in constitutional law at the Law Library. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Law of the Executive Branch: Presidential Power” from Oxford University Press.

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