Warren G. Harding

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Power-Grabbing In Recess?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

A recent court decision has slowed—dare we hope, stopped?—the erosion of an important check on executive power. This is the constitutional provision that the president’s appointment of certain high officials be subject to Senate approval.

Trevor Burrus of the Cato Institute reminds us that presidents have sought to circumvent the advise and consent requirement since the days of Warren Harding.

The Constitution enables the president to make appointments when the Senate is in recess, i.e., between sessions. (In the days of the Founders, that hiatus lasted many months.) Starting with Harding, though, presidents began making appointments during so-called intra-session “recesses,” or breaks within a regular session. These “recesses” were as brief as ten days by the time we got to Clinton and Bush II.

In 2007, the Senate began conducting brief pro forma sessions within these “recesses” to prevent appointments from being made without its consent. Last year, President Obama counter-moved by declaring that he had authority to determine what constitutes a session. On this basis he made several appointments sans the Senate’s consent.

The DC Court of Appeals has now ruled the maneuver unconstitutional. “The power of a written constitution lies in its words,” writes Chief Judge David Sentelle. “When those words speak clearly, it is not up to us to depart from their meaning in favor of our own concept of efficiency, convenience, or facilitation of the functions of government.”

Do presidents sometimes find the Constitution inconvenient? Too bad.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Slowest Spending in Decades?

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Government tends to grow in spurts, with budgets not decreasing after each spurt. This “ratchet effect” of fast growth then tapering off amounts to a long-term trend: growth.

You’ve probably seen Rex Nutting’s MarketWatch squib, the subject of many a Tweet and Facebook post. Entitled “Obama spending binge never happened,” it begins, “Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.” Nutting reframes the issue as one of the rate of spending growth . . . just as Republican apologists did in the ’80s, even though spending under Ronald Reagan’s first term grew at a whopping 8.7 percent — a bigger rate increase than Obama’s. Nutting entitles his graph comparing administrations’ spending growth rates “Slowest spending in decades,” indicating not how much Obama has been spending over revenue, but year-to-year rates of increase.Barack Obama, Spree Spender

The prez gets a bad rap.

Well, yes and no. The graph should make party-loyal Republicans and Bush admirers cringe with shame. Sure. But Obama and the current Congress are still spending. Hugely. And rapidly — those dollars fly out the door!

Further, by maintaining high annual deficits, Obama has increased the federal debt so that this year it has shot above 100 percent of current Gross Domestic Product, a first for my lifetime.

Obama can be blamed for not doing the decent thing after the horrible six years of united government under the Republicans, he didn’t reduce spending.

In other words, he’s no Warren G. Harding, who presided over a huge contraction of government spending, thereby helping usher in a quick recovery from the post-Great War bust.

We could use a man like Warren Harding again.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.