One of the most basic and brilliant facets of the founding document bequeathed to us by men wise beyond their years is a system of checks and balances designed to prevent any one of the three branches of government from acquiring too much power.
We’re familiar with many of these. Vetoes and their override is a well known example. Another is Presidential appointments wherein the President appoints a person to a position but the Senate must confirm the appointment.
While the Senate’s ability to deny a President his choice is a power that often frustrates those in the Oval Office, and while it is often abused – particularly, but not exclusively, by Democrats – it remains a powerful check on Presidential power.
That is until Friday, August 3, 2012 when the US House in a “roll call” vote chose to reduce the number of Presidential appointments subject to Senate confirmation. The vote was the House vote on S679 from 2011 where the US Senate voted 79-20 to do the same thing.
The original Senate bill was introduced by NY’s Chuck Schumer and TN’s Lamar Alexander was a co-sponsor. TN Senator Bob Corker, while not a co-sponsor, was one of the disappointing 79 “Yea” votes last year. Other GOP Senators of note supporting the bill were Scott Brown, Dick Lugar, John McCain, Rob Portman, Jeff Sessions, John Thune and Pat Toomey. No Senate Democrat opposed the bill and among GOP Senators opposing the bill were Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Dean Heller, James Inhofe, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
The Tennessee House delegation was much better. Only Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper and Stephen Fincher voted for the bill. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischman and Phil Roe all opposed the measure while Scott DesJarlais did not cast a vote.
Among the 95 House Republicans supporting the bill were Eric Cantor, Jason Chaffetz, Jeff Flake, Jeb Hensarling, Duncan Hunter, Darryl Issa, Adam Kinzinger and Paul Ryan. Only one Democrat voted against the bill joining 115 GOP House members including Justin Amash, Michelle Bachmann, Louis Gohmert and Allen West.
The final vote total was 261-116 with 54 present and not voting. Four members, including John Boehner, were evidently not present and did not vote. If 43 GOP yes votes had gone the other way, the measure would have failed.
The bill’s purpose is explained as a streamlining measure. Most of the positions now exempt from confirmation are not overly visible or important ones. Still, New American reports,
Dozens of key management positions in the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Commerce, and Homeland Security (including the treasurer of the United States, the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, the director of the Office for Domestic Preparedness, and the assistant administrator of FEMA) will now be filled by presidential edict, without the need of the “advice and consent” of the Senate …
You can see the whole list of positions here.
There are several troubling questions and aspects in the bill. Why would any legislator, regardless of party, freely surrender authority and responsibility given to him by our Constitution? If there are backlogs and departments without leaders, why was this solution adopted? For example, why not fold leaderless departments into other departments? Why not do away with them altogether? How many Assistant Secretaries does our government actually need, after all?
Most importantly, this is a legislative end around to subvert a Constitutional requirement. The “Appointments Clause” in Article II, Section 2 is the basis for the Senate confirmation process. There is no excuse for this “problem” to be solved in this way. If the issue is that portions of government have grown too big to be handled in the Constitutional manner, then arguably the solution is to cut the size of government, not reduce the authority of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, virtually every Democrat at the national level, and far too many Republicans, disagree.
It gives one pause. These legislators, especially Republicans, are the ones we are counting on to do things like repeal ObamaCare, keep our nation safe and secure our rights. If they so cavalierly discard Constitutional requirements and surrender Constitutionally bestowed responsibilities in minor areas, are we really sure they are the right folks for the big jobs?