The Good News: Congress Adjourned But Detroit’s Bailout Keeps Chugging Away

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Congress, go home and stay there. We don’t need you.

We have a president and a secretary of the Treasury. That’s all we need. We don’t need you, your hearings, your negotiations, or your votes.

President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson made that plain last week. Just a few hours after the Senate voted to deny a $14 billion bailout, Bush and Paulson announced they would throw billions of dollars to the Detroit Big Three automakers anyway.

One week later, the deal had not been done. Second thoughts on the president’s part, perhaps? Nope. The White House has publicly assured the Detroit Big Three help is on the way. Speculation ranges from a $14 billion short-term loan package similar to the one lawmakers defeated last week to a $40 billion package that would carry the automakers into this spring.

Bush and Co. apparently do not care that lawmakers we have elected to represent us rejected the bailout, or that the Constitution gives Congress, not the president, power over federal spending.

“There is a real issue with the rule of law,” said Gene Healy, a vice president at the libertarian Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, which chronicles an increasingly imperial presidency and weakening Congress. “It’s stunning that Congress has spoken on this issue, but it doesn’t matter.”

“When you delegate this much power to the president, you’ve made [James] Madison’s nightmare scenario: unification of power in one branch,” Healy said. “The presidency has legislative and executive authority now. The TARP [Troubled Assets Relief Program] language is so broad they can make law and decide how to carry it out.”

That is precisely what they are doing. The TARP is the now-infamous $700 billion program Congress approved in October, ostensibly giving the Treasury secretary the power to buy troubled mortgage-related assets of financial institutions. We now know the treasury secretary had backed away from that idea even before it was approved. Thus he has a $700 billion slush fund to use any way he sees fit, including throwing some of the money to auto companies even after our elected representatives rejected the idea.

Perhaps more disturbing than the contempt displayed toward our elected representatives and the Constitution is the willingness of those representatives to shrug it off.

“It so happens that almost every important duty, the Constitution gives to Congress,” Healy noted. “But members of Congress much prefer to punt the hard decisions to the presidency. They prefer vague, general statutes and leave it to the executive branch bureaucracy to hammer out the details. It started with legislative delegation, then bled into delegation to declare war, and now it’s bleeding into the power of the purse.”

This should concern us all, because as the power of the presidency grows, the power of the people shrinks.