Inherent to society, agents within a power hierarchy are always at odds with each other to gain more than the others. The United States Federal Government is no exception. In fact, it’s founded and secured on the principle of implementing these “checks and balances”. The power of the Chief Executive, more so than other branches, is constantly measured and checked against that of the Congress. This tumultuous fighting is evident in the 20th century as characterized by the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Article 2, Section 2 states, “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States;” This schism between the power to declare war and the power to command troops has lead to many instances of the executive abuse of its power to send troops against foreign countries without declaration of war such as Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq multiple times, Afghanistan, Somalia, Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, Grenada, Honduras, and Lebanon. The War Powers Resolution was an attempt by Congress primarily to regain the power to start war; secondarily, a resolution aimed at pacifying a growing domestic anti-war movement. Following the vocal outcry to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a blank check handed by Congress to Lyndon B. Johnson to escalate the conflict in Vietnam after North Vietnamese military attacks on American ships, a consensus was reached the Congress should have more control over the process of war. The Act, passed over a Nixon veto, required the President to report to Congress within two days of troop deployment, and then to remove troops within 60 days unless one of three conditions were met; Congress gives permission for continued troops presence either by declaration of war or statute, or vote by law to extend the 60 day period, or are physically unable to by because of an attack on the United States. Critics, however, have pointed out several flaws with this system, most noticeably the lax conditions that have to be met to continue troop deployment. Also, the theory has been forwarded that military forces may be used in a way that would make it difficult or impossible to withdraw after the 60 day period. While this Act goes a long way to check presidential misuse of power, the ultimate problem lies with Congress itself. It would be imagined that the lesson would have been learned after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; if you give the President a blank check, with no conditions on which to withdraw support of the war, it will be abused, as is evident in the thirteen year struggle on the Indochinese Peninsula. Congress’ “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq” Resolution again left Congress’ war purse open without any option of closing it. And, rather not ironic, popular sentiment is shifting on this war as more and more people see it for what it is; a long drawn out struggle with no foreseeable ending based on erroneous assumptions and drafted without an acceptable exit plan. It is becoming the New Vietnam. It is very foreseeable, then, that as this sentiment moves more mainstream, and a true opposition party is organized, the power of Congress to regulate war will be increased.

The Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 checked Presidential power in the other major job of a free society, money allocation. Prior to the Act, all budgets went through the Office of Management and Budget which produced thirteen appropriations bills, each having to be independently ratified by Congress. Seen as being within the Executive’s control, all budgets were subject to impoundment – the withholding of allotted funds. This issue came to a head under Train v. City of New York. Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 over a Nixon veto. In retaliation, Nixon ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to not disperse all of the appropriated money, in part due to the overturn of the veto and also due to a balanced budget initiative which this Act ignored. The City of New York, selected to receive funding, filed as the initiative of a class-action suit which eventually was taken up by the United States Supreme Court. It ruled that the President’s job as chief enforcer of laws did not allow him to deny mandated funding from bills because he did not like it. The Budget and Impoundment Control Act addressed both of these issues, but to varying degrees of success.

The constant struggle of power within the government is both a property and strength of the current political system. Antiquated or unpopular powers on either side can be controlled and changed, which help ensure a modern and relevant government which responds to the needs of the people. This is why over 200 years after its signing, the Constitution remains the limiting force and protector of liberty within our country.

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