In the political posturing and finger-pointing taking place regarding the “sequester,” the first victim is the United States Constitution. Congress has ignored its responsibility as a co-equal branch of the government. It is the House and Senate that have the power of the purse, not the president. It is the job of Congress to pass appropriations bills, which the president can either sign or veto. The president does not have the power to pick and choose those budget items he likes or dislikes. The money has to be spent, by law, the way Congress says it should be spent.
On the day the sequester kicked in, House and Senate leaders met with the president but nothing was agreed to that would override the arbitrary, ill-conceived automatic budget cuts that will be felt in the weeks and months ahead. It does seem, however, that another stopgap measure may be forthcoming in a matter of weeks. It was instructive what President Obama said after this last meeting before the sequestration began: “I am not a dictator. I am the president.” He said he could not force Congress “to do the right thing.” His statement is consistent with the Constitution, which limits the powers of the president when it comes to matters of the budget. He cannot dictate to Congress. He cannot demand passage of a budget.
If Congress fails to pass regular appropriations bills as part of the normal, regular order of business, then it becomes the president’s job to figure out how to make the executive branch of government, including the military, function as best it can with what money is available. To keep the government from shutting down, Congress has been passing a series of short-term continuing resolutions which allow the government to continue to run on appropriations levels that were previously passed. The CR’s are a stopgap measure. They keep things running on a temporary basis while the nation lurches from crisis to crisis. With last-minute CRs everyone loses, and government becomes more costly because the inability of policy makers and agencies of government to plan ahead. You cannot plan without knowing what the appropriations will be.
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