American constitution outlines three key players of the legislative game; the House, the Congress and the President. The President needs the Congress to pass a bill for any policy that requires legal sanction. The enforcement of the law requires presidential approval not unless both chambers of Congress can gather a two-thirds majority to override a veto. The Senate must endorse treaties negotiated by the president and must approve the president's choice for the executive and judicial positions. These three institutions are interdependent which is very crucial as they do not hold comparable inclinations on essential issues (Smith et al., 276). The constitution, however, does not bring out some of the Congress and Presidential powers and functions. For example, the law provides the president the mandate to appoint ambassadors and sign treaties with the advice and approval of the Senate, but it does not explain how the president is to receive and account for senatorial advice (Smith et al., 274). The constitution also gives the Congress the power to declare war but due to rapid growth in military technology and increased threats the president is sometimes forced to make decisions about war without involving the legislature. The constitution also gives the president the ability to kill a bill after Congress adjournment by taking no action; the law does not explain break. Due to such ambiguity, the court often comes in and defines the boundaries of each institution in the legislative and executive arena. This paper will identify cases where the Congress and the President have clashed over issues regarding legislative game and how the court settled the dispute. It will also focus on how the powers of the president and the Congress have changed over time.
Between 1969 and 1974 the congress was controlled by Democrats. There was a conspicuous conflict between President Richard Nixon and the Congress. The president claimed the power to withhold funds (impoundment) from executive agencies even after the appropriation bill was passed into law (Smith et al., 300). For example, Nixon withheld funds that were meant for sewage treatment plant that was managed by the Environment Protection Agency. Impoundments were challenged in court and the president lost in the case. The cases were mostly heard at the United States (US) district level and were not appealed. In the sewerage treatment case, the Supreme Court ruled that the president is indebted to follow the law and allocate funds.
The constitution has given the president the ability to kill a bill by not signing it if the Congress has adjourned within ten days of passing it. If the Congress has adjourned its session, the president cannot return the bill in parliament with a formal veto message. Such veto is known as pocket veto. The pocket veto has raised debates and has been challenged in court. In 1976 the court ruled that pocket vetoes would only be used only after the second Congress session adjournment (Smith et al., 284). President Regan had maintained that intersession pocket vetoes were legal and a federal district judge upheld his stand. An appeal was made, and the decision by the federal court was reversed. Regan administration did not appeal the ruling. Since the Supreme Court has not given its verdict on the issue, the court of appeal still holds up to date.
The constitution gives the president an upper hand in foreign and defense policies. He appoints the ambassadors, makes treaties, receives ambassadors from other countries, and serves as the commander in chief of armed forces. The constitution also gives the Congress some powers as the financing of policies for international policy has to go through the Congress. The Congress also has the powers to declare war, create and organize armed forces and define offenses against the law of the nation. Apart from the constitution defining the powers of each player in matters of foreign and defense policies, there exists ambiguity on the actual roles of each party. The Presidents argue that they have the power to act on some security and foreign policies without the consent of the Congress. The stand has been strengthened by the fact that there is rapid scientific and technological advancement in the production of weapons of mass destruction. This progress demands that the president coordinates the US, act in secrecy and quickly. The USA plays a crucial role in international affairs, and thus the president is set free to launch secret operations and deploy forces when he sees fit. The court has strengthened these powers of the president to conduct foreign policies. In 1939 the court spelled out the president is the one who is fit to assume the defense and foreign policies, thus eased the tension over such matters with the Congress (Smith et al., 294).
Over time the powers of the Congress and hose of the president have changed. The role of the president in policy making has grown in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Congress has given more powers to the president and the executive agencies by empowering the executive wing the ability to determine the details and methods of executing various policies.
A successful relationship between the president and the Congress depends on the political situation in the country. If the president is popular, the legislators will want to be associated with him and with his programs as opposed to when he is unpopular. Due to the variation in support from the Congress, the presidents have been seeking public support to strengthen their hand against the Congress (Smith et al., 289). The presidents are getting support through activities such as press conferences, exclusive interviews, timely leaks and television talk shows. This strategy is attractive as it reaches an entirely large audience, reduces legislators dependence on support from the president and the parties and it reduces budgetary constraints. The President aims at increasing the cost of opposing him and raising the benefit of supporting him.
Initially, the president had no powers, and all actions that he took had to be ratified by the Congress. Today this has changed, and the President has more powers. The War Powers Act has given the president the ability to initiate military action (Smith et al., 302). Initially, only the Congress would send the military to war, and the president was just in charge once they were in operation.
On the other hand, the powers of the Congress on commercial clause have been changing too. In 1930 the court allowed congress to determine what activities were related to interstate commerce. In the 1960s the court gave the Congress the power to prohibit owners of public accommodation with the interstate connection from denying access to the base of color or race. Since 1995 the court has dramatically reduced the Congress power in the commerce clause as it has ruled against it.
It is clear that there are cases where the American constitution does not spell out clearly the separation of power between the president and the structure which has led to a clash between the President and the Congress. However, the Supreme Court, which has got the final decisions, has been coming in to interpret the laws and draw boundaries between the two institutions. The Supreme Court has been instrumental in streamlining the powers of the President and the Congress and harmonizing the two institutions.
Smith, Steven S., Jason M. Roberts, and Ryan J. Vander Wielen.The American Congress.Cambridge University Press, 2013.
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