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The Failure of Congress

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Ultimately, if the president’s arbitrary war powers are going to be checked Congress needs to step up. I have a piece up at the Prospect explaining about why a Congress that will systematically obstruct nominees it has no objection to will continue to fail in its responsibilities:

Will Congress reassert its authority? It seems very unlikely. “Congress has never shown an interest in curbing the use of force or limiting the resources at a president’s disposal in an ongoing conflict,” says Andrew Polsky, author of Elusive Victories, a valuable new history of presidential war powers. “Simply put, lawmakers do not want ownership of a war, especially one that isn’t going well.” Because wars tend to cause the public to rally around the president at the beginning, but also tend to lose popularity the longer they continue, Congress has little incentive to check presidential war powers at any stage of the process.

The Framers believed that the branches of government would jealously guard their powers: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” Madison famously argued in Federalist #51. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Or, more precisely, political ambition sometimes compels legislators to delegate responsibility for difficult choices to the other branches. The distribution of war powers has become imbalanced, but not so much because the president has “usurped” congressional authority as that Congress has happily abdicated its proper role. The public needs to start blaming both parties in Congress as well as the White House for abuses in the War on Terror. Until it does, Congress is likely to continue passing the buck.

Read the whole etc.

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