Senator Jeff Sessions: Power of the purse lost?

senator-jeff-sessionsBy Senator Jeff Sessions

We are a coequal branch of government, delegated with the powers necessary to defend our institution and our constitutional role. We cannot and must not establish the precedent that we will fund illegal actions on the hope that another branch of government will intervene and strike down that illegal action at some later point. To establish such a precedent would be to empower any future President to demand Congress fund any unlawful decree, and then assert that Congress is ‘shutting down the government’ unless this illegal, off-the-books program is funded. Congress must reassert its waning power. We must reestablish the constitutional principle that the people’s representatives control the purse…

Not even King George III had the power to legislate without Parliament. President Obama himself described such an action as being something only an Emperor could do. Twenty-two times the President declared such an action would be illegal.

President Obama ignored his own warnings, and issued an edict that defies the Congress, the Constitution, and centuries of legal heritage that gave birth to our Republic.

The Founders, in their wisdom, gave the Congress the tools it would need to stop a President if he were to overreach. Chief among those is the power of purse. I read now from Federalist 58, authored by the great Father of the Constitution, James Madison:

“The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

It is a complete power of the people’s elected representatives. Congress has no obligation to fund those actions which it believes are unwise. And it has an absolute duty not to fund actions which are unlawful and unconstitutional. Congress cannot fund an action which dissolves its own powers. Congress cannot become a museum piece, a marble building that tourists visit to hear about great debates from long ago. It cannot exist merely to approve that which the President demands.

Consider the precedent being established here. Congress passes a law — just as Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. A president proposes a new law to replace the current one. Hearing vast public opposition, Congress rejects the new law that the President has proposed. Frustrated, the President then issues an edict eliminating the current law and replacing it with the measures he proposed but the people’s representatives rejected. The President then demands Congress provide him with the funds to execute his unlawful program. Congress says no. The President then accuses Congress of “shutting the government down” for not funding his unlawful operation. Congress surrenders, and gives the President exactly what he wants.

Is this to be the new normal? Congress must provide the President with the funds he wants, for any project he dreams up, no matter how illegal and unconstitutional? Is the power of the purse now a historical concept, never to be used again when it is needed most? There is no more basic application of congressional power than to establish where funds may and may not be spent; indeed, that is the very definition of an appropriations bill. And there could never be a more important time to exercise such a power than when our Republican heritage itself is at stake.

We cannot let this Congress go down in the history books as the Congress that established a new precedent that we will fund any imperial decree that violates established American laws.

And this is not a minor constitutional violation. It is an explosive violation. It threatens our very sovereignty.

Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican, represents the state of Alabama.

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