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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2003

Separation of powers

It's about time the Republican-led Congress showed a little backbone with the Bush Administration. After basically giving the White House a blank check to wage war with Iraq, Washington lawmakers got the due bill and balked.

The amount, while significant as a down payment to the Iraqi campaign, is not the only factor that raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill. What really and rightly drew the wrath of Republicans and Democrats alike was the administration's blunt power grab for legislative spending oversight.

The President asked for nearly $75 billion for the war and homeland security, along with the expanded authority to spend it without answering to the legislative branch of government. Congress is prepared to give the administration what it wants in cash - more if Senate Democrats win added funding for domestic security - but it will control the purse strings.

“Nice try,” scoffed Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican, in reaction to the Bush request for spending flexibility. “We didn't just create huge slush funds to be used at the discretion of an agency,” added Republican Bill Young of Florida, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Even a staunch Bush loyalist, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, registered his dismay at the administration's attempt to sidestep congressional checks and balances. And conservative activists like Grover Norquist, tight with the Bush team, sided with the lawmakers. “There is a sense that the White House has to understand that they are co-equal branches of government,” he offered.

One writer who noted the series of slights by the administration to Congress - like refusing to testify before key foreign and finance committees and refusing requests for energy policy records from the congressional General Accounting Office, concluded the White House viewed the legislative branch “as a constitutionally mandated annoyance.”

The administration makes no attempt to disguise its irritation with lawmakers who would resist its drive for greater executive power. After both House and Senate appropriations panels put curbs on the sweeping spending discretion sought by the White House on money primarily targeted for the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld promised a renewed battle.

The Defense secretary vowed to press Congress for “full flexibility” over use of the huge funding package to finance the war in Iraq. For once, Congress should vow to press back.



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