Mark Kleiman, among others, is being naive:
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the real action is on the appropriations side. By de-funding a bunch of units the average voter never heard of and doesn't care about, Congress can bring the Bush Administration to its knees. And unlike the Iraq pullout measures, this doesn't require 60 votes in the Senate.
In fact, it doesn't even require 50 votes in the Senate: just a majority in the House and a Senate Majority Leader willing to play rough.
Assume the House passes a General Government appropriation bill zeroing out the White House press office, political office, personnel office, and counsel's office. And assume that Lieberman defects and that all the Senate Republicans stand with Bush, so the Senate votes to restore those cuts. (That seems unlikely, but assume it for the sake of argument.) The House stands firm and asks for a conference. Reid and Pelosi make sure that all the Democratic conferees support the cuts. So the bill comes out of conference with no funding for those offices.
A conference report can't be amended. So Bush's supporters in the Senate couldn't put the money back. Their choices would be to (1) vote for the bill, thus de-funding those offices or (2) vote against the bill, thus de-funding the entire White House, Treasury Department, and several other agencies. The same goes for Bush: he can veto the bill, but that doesn't keep the money coming. As long as the House majority stands firm, the Democrats hold all the cards.
What on Earth makes him think that these offices will cease to have money just because Congress has defunded them? The natural response would be to denounce this as an unconstitutional interference with the unitary executive, and order them to go on as before.
Are taxes collected by the executive branch? Yes. Are Treasury bonds sold by the executive branch? Yes. Is money printed by the executive branch? Yes. Are the checks to pay for government operations cut by the executive branch? Yes. For Congress rather than the President to control the budget, executive branch employees must be so unwilling to break the law in response to orders that those orders will not be given, or, having been given, not be followed — and those employees must not just be purged until the remnant get with the program.
I'm sure most of the relevant civil servants are praiseworthy bureaucrats, but it would be interesting to know how many of the people running the OMB, for instance, think they swore fealty to the President's person.
Update, 22 July: Fixed sentence fragment.
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Posted at July 20, 2007 17:50 | permanent link