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Troubling Their Own Houses

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Larry Sakin
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If someone had told me back in 2004 that a Republican senator would press legislation to sue a Republican president, I'd have dismissed the idea quickly. But sure enough, that's exactly what's happening right now. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter will have a bill ready by the end of the week which will allow the Senate to sue President Bush over his signing statements.

Specter believes that the signing statements are being used by the president to skirt recent legislation, especially the outlawing of torture of terror detainees and the revised Patriot Act, which Specter authored. It's unknown if Specter's bill has enough muster in the Senate to pass, but considering how the Senate looks very bad right now by allowing its lawmaking powers be usurped by the executive, there's probably a good chance the bill will be enacted into law.

As much as I admire this particular development, it seems diametrically opposed to another bill Specter is passing among his colleagues. In it, Specter and the Judiciary Committee reached a "compromise" with the Bush administration over NSA spying activities. According to a Washington Post editorial by Specter "The president has insisted that he was acting lawfully within his constitutional responsibilities. On its face, the program seems contrary to the plain text of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which regulates domestic national security wiretapping. The president argues, however, that his inherent constitutional powers supersede the statute. Without knowing the exact contours of the program, it's impossible to say whether he is right or wrong. But three federal appeals court decisions suggest the president may be right." Specter also writes that the bill... "also modernizes FISA in important ways, giving the president added flexibility in protecting the country. The bill extends from three days to seven the time, in emergency situations, that the government can conduct surveillance without the court's permission. It permits the attorney general to delegate his authority to seek emergency warrants to subordinate officials. And it exempts from FISA's jurisdiction communications between two persons overseas that gets routed through domestic servers. The bill would also transfer the various lawsuits challenging the program to the FISC for consideration under its secure procedures."

So on one hand, Specter challenges President Bush's authority to ignore restrictions put on the executive branch by the legislative, and on the other, Specter extends presidential authority to continue a program that violates Constitutional protections for citizens. Pretty neat trick, eh?

Congress and the President are supposed to be serving the public's interest, not their own. Specter's first bill is an attempt to regain power the Senate handed to the president without as much as a whimper. Bush has used signing statements throughout his tenure as a "war president" and Congress sat idly by while he did it. But now that Republicans are in danger of having their incompetence bite them on the ass at the polls this November, Specter wants Congress to look like its reigning in the executive. Essentially, Specter's first bill is just a political ploy that separates Congress from a very damaging aspect of Bush's presidential term. Had Specter and the Judiciary Committee really had the public interest at heart, they wouldn't have compromised with Bush over the NSA spy issue, which goes way beyond presidential and congressional power issues.

Specter and Congress' disingenuousness exposes both the executive and legislative branches as being in disarray. Two branches of government are now at war over what the president can and cannot do, and that signals neither branch is capable of carrying out their Constitutional mandates. It's also a sign that our democracy is seriously fucked up. And all of this is going to continue ad nauseum unless you exercise your Constitutional duty to show Specter and the rest of the eminent leeches in Congress the door in 2006 and 2008.
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Larry Sakin is a former non-profit medical organization executive and music producer. His writing can be found on Mytown.ca, Blogcritics, OpEd News, The People's Voice, Craig's List and The Progressive magazine. He also advocates for literacy and (more...)
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