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There is something fundamentally wrong here

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Message David Waldman
The Congress is at the threshold of a major capitulation on FISA. There's no doubt that there are a lot of political (read: electoral) implications to this vote. We all know that. We've been through this fear mongering routine before, where the public is rattled by vague pronouncements about unspecified threats (or about whatever's going on in Michael Chertoff's "gut," as the case may be), and where Members of Congress are cowed by the prospect of Republican attack ads claiming they're "weak on terror."

And of course, at this point it should go without saying that if a bill is placed before you that addresses additional powers and authority for the Attorney General, of all people, this is a full stop moment.

The vote on this bill is no. The vote on any bill expanding the powers of this Attorney General is no.

These are things I should not have to outline for anyone at this point. Certainly not Daily Kos readers. But you'd hope Members of Congress, too. But apparently, in that hope you'd be disappointed.

Still, these are merely the surface issues. There's something deeper and even more troubling going on here. What's happening here is the ceding of the last remaining prerogatives of the legislative branch to the executive. We are currently watching the Congress cede its oversight authority -- not its ability to hold hearings, but its ability to make hearings mean something. We may be watching the Congress cede its "power of the purse," as George W. Bush now threatens to veto any appropriations bill that does not match the numbers in his budget. (You need to know that the president's budget has almost never been the working model for Congress. The traditional reaction to the president's budget, no matter whose it is or even who's reacting, has been that it's "dead on arrival.") Now we are watching the Congress cede even its legislative powers, reacting to Bush's threat to keep them in session until they pass the exact FISA legislation he demands.

Does this comport with any American's concept of the basic functions of the different branches of our government? Since when does the president dictate the terms of legislation... to legislators?

Since they started rolling over for it, that's when.

This is a fundamental failure not just of politics, but of the framework envisioned by the Founders, who felt sure that the immutable precepts of self-interest would be the engine that drove the checks and balances that protect our freedoms and forestall the creep of tyranny. While the political motives of elected officials were always open to question, it was beyond doubt that personal ambition and the jealous guarding of power would be all the motivation necessary to keep any branch from ceding its powers to another.

That this could ever turn out not to be the case is simply astounding, and it is a measure of just how much damage the George W. Bush "administration" has inflicted on our Constitution. While we are all too well aware of the political constraints involved in remedying the situation, the fact is that his continuance in office endangers the future of our system of government as every one of you have understood it to date.

Have a nice recess.

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David Waldman is a Contributing Editor blogging as Kagro X at, the largest and most visited political blog in the world. A non-practicing attorney, a former Capitol Hill aide, his online work includes a comprehensive study of the Senate's "nuclear option," written at (more...)
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