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While Obama visits the Queen, Congress dismantles checks and balances at home

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  May 25, 2011 02:09 PM

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While President Obama is hobnobbing with the Queen of England, Congressional insiders back in Washington are quietly trying to dismantle our system of checks and balances – the very thing that distinguishes us from a monarchy.

Starting with Article I of our Constitution – the one that gives Congress the sole power “To Declare War” – members of the House Armed Services Committee are trying to sneak a provision into a “must pass” defense authorization bill to give the president – any president – the unchecked power to unilaterally declare war.

The proposed provision would enable a president to take our country to war wherever, whenever, and however he or she sees fit. The plan would even permit the President to use military force within the United States and against U.S. citizens – without any showing that national security is at stake.

How dare members of Congress abdicate their Constitutional duty to oversee war powers at a time when so many of our sons and daughters in uniform are laying down their lives for their country in escalating conflicts around the world?

Where is Congress’ sense of duty, honor and country – not to mention understanding of basic checks and balances?

No wonder the folks pushing this bill tried to sneak it in without a public hearing!

Given my lifelong preference for democratic republics over either monarchies or dictatorships, I’m dubious when elected leaders screw around with our system of checks and balances – doubly so when they try to pool power in the Executive Branch of government and the military.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, a Republican of California, reportedly is behind this effort to gut the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force on the sly – without public hearing or debate.

Compare this to the fifteen hearings that Congress held in 2002 when it passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force for the Iraq War. Back then, Congress also publicly debated and passed an AUMF that cited specific harms, set limits, and defined a clear objective that, if met, would effectively terminate the AUMF.

NOTE: Rep. McKeon also is a guy who reportedly wants “more Arizona-like state laws where people are asked for papers” – sort of like the system the East Germans had under the Stasi.

As the House prepares to vote on this week on the proposal,early news report state that President Obama has threatened to veto the defense reauthorization bill if these clearly unconstitutional provisions are included. I hope it’s true.

If Rep. McKeon and others in Congress have reason to believe that there is a significant new threat to the national security of the United States that requires significant military force as a response, they should declare war or enact a new bill Authorizing the Use of Military Force.

Anything less is just a sneak attack on our system of checks and balances.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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