Memo to McConnell: Congress, not the president, has the final say

Kim Strassel has a meaty piece in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's game plan through the 2012 election. For the most part, it ought to be encouraging for anybody who hopes to see Leviathan cut down to size.

<p>But then comes this paragraph:

“[McConnell]and House Speaker-elect John Boehner seem acutely aware of the perils of over-promising, and came out of the gate this week intent on managing expectations. One challenge will be reminding an impatient public that ultimate power still rests in the White House, not Congress. 'We are not spiking the ball in the end zone, or acting like we took over the government when we didn't,' says Mr. McConnell.”

Uh, no, Congress has the ultimate power in the federal government, the president only thinks he does. As Willmoore Kendall said, the Founders wisely gave Congress all of the ultimate weapons and thus empowered it to win any showdown with either the president or the federal courts.

Yes, McConnell no doubt characterized the political correlation of forces between now and 2012 as resting upon the presidential veto. Perhaps that makes tactical political sense, since it puts the final onus on President Obama in the event, for example, an Obamacare repeal or modification bill is sent to the White House.

But Congress under both Democrats and Republicans has for so long acted like the second branch of the federal government that it's become a truism that the guy in the White House is the single most important individual in town. He's not and here are just five of the reasons why:

* Congress holds the purse strings. No money appropriated means no presidential programs go anywhere.

* Congress can withhold confirmation of presidential appointees and defund any executive branch position it chooses.

* Congress determines the jurisdiction of federal courts.

* Congress has the most powerful media show in town – oversight hearings.

* Congress can override presidential vetos.

In short, again as Kendall, with Georgetown Prof. George Carey, argued in The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, ours is a legislative supremacy system, not a unitary presidential regime. Congressional GOP leaders would do well to rediscover this fact.

McConnell has come in for a lot of uninformed criticism for his statement that his number one goal is to make sure Obama is a one-term president. But he is exactly right on the point. Reversing the damage done by the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime since 2008 will take time and will likely require solid Republican majorities in the Senate and House, as well as a GOP president.

The key to congressional power and to the prospects for undoing the destruction wreaked by Leviathan is whether there is a unified will to do that. Besides dividing power among the three branches, the Founders also divided power within Congress. The Senate and House must choose to act in unison.

There's no guarantee that they will act in unison even if Republicans sweep the 2012 elections as deeply as they did the 2010. But talking as if Congress does not have the final say is a good way of insuring that the needed unity of will never will come about.

You can – and should – read the full Strassel piece here.

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