“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
— James Madison, “The Federalist #47”
For those of you looking to teach your children a little history this Fourth of July holiday, current events are supplying a very nice lesson. The Founding Fathers were dealing with a crisis brought on by the excesses of King George III. Today, we’re dealing with another crisis brought on by the excesses of King Obama I. With his executive orders, his flouting of the Constitution’s clear separation of powers, his contempt for the other branches of government and the rule of law, our president lately has been giving a very passable imitation of King George.
That said, I have to admit to very mixed emotions about the plan floated by GOP House Speaker John Boehner to file a lawsuit against the president for his actions, to in effect bring in the courts to referee the dispute between the legislative and executive branches. I agree with virtually all the arguments the House Republicans are making (and the president’s flippant “sue me” comment shows he doesn’t understand the gravity of the case against him), but a lawsuit to my mind is not the first or best option for waging this battle.
There is no question that this president is out of control and that something needs to be done. As Madison wisely observed, citing the insights of Montesquieu, a clear separation of the powers of government is essential to prevent the rise of tyranny. The Founding Fathers understood that the government they were establishing could not allow any one person or groups of persons to grab all the power. Each branch of government — the legislative, the executive and the judiciary — has a clearly defined role and clearly defined powers. It was also no accident that the very first article of the Constitution deals with the legislature, which was designed to be the most powerful of the three branches.
In our system, the president’s role is to carry out the laws that the Congress passes, not to write his own laws, not to rewrite the laws that do get passed, and not to issue executive orders that bypass the rest of the government entirely. This president makes a mockery of the checks and balances Madison and the other Founding Fathers carefully put in place.
And on the human level, we have in President Obama someone who clearly doesn’t believe in limited government or the rule of law. As Madison also observed, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The only way to check the abuses coming out of the White House — whether it’s the stream of executive orders, the use of the IRS to go after political enemies, or the ignoring of the clear language of the law repeatedly in the rollout of Obamacare — is for the House Republicans and Speaker Boehner to stand up and say no. The president can’t even make the argument that he’s carrying out the will of the people with his actions — just take a look at his polls.
Even so, when it comes to reining Mr. Obama in, I still prefer that the House rely on its constitutional power of the purse rather than turn to the courts for relief. Suing the president, putting aside how long it will take and whether the courts will even get involved, actually represents a ceding of congressional powers to the judiciary. The power of the purse is a far superior option. Pay no attention to those who say another government shutdown over spending will hurt the Republicans: The government was shut down for 16 days last year and nobody missed it.
We’re already seeing some evidence that Mr. Obama can be stopped in the spending bills coming out of the House that are cutting hundreds of millions of dollars targeted to fund these executive orders.
I sympathize with the speaker’s frustration, but I also see help is on the way. If the Republicans in Congress can just hold on for three more months, and if the American voters give us the House and Senate majorities we need to dethrone King Obama, much of the damage done to our system of government can be reversed — without asking the Supreme Court to step in.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and www.washingtontimes.com.