by Ray Smock
The Byrd Center, along with about 40 other institutions which comprise the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, is sponsoring Congress Week the first week of April each year to help promote a better public understanding of the rich history of Congress. This year is the 225th anniversary of the federal government, but nobody seems to be celebrating.
Twenty-five years ago it was my job to be the lead national planner for the U. S. House of Representatives in commemoration of the bicentennials of the U. S. Constitution and the U.S. Congress. I won’t be around for the tricentennial of Congress in 2089 but I sure hope Congress is still functioning then as our legislative branch of government. With the support of the American people that Congress deserves, it will be. But government is far more fragile than it seems. It’s survival is not guaranteed. The history of the world is the story of the coming and going of governments and nations. Our government and our nation are worth preserving. We are only 225 years old! We are still experimenting with representative government. We will always be experimenting.
So for my opening statement for Congress Week, I confess that I love Congress. You might not hear this anywhere else these days. Here is an item I wrote for the History News Network, which appears today. Do you love Congress? Do you want to see that Capitol dome a hundred years from now as the enduring symbol of the American system of government under the Constitution? Will you be among those who help guarantee its survival and help make it all it can be?
By Ray Smock
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.
Today, March 1, the first day the sequester kicks in, House and Senate leaders met with the President but nothing was agreed to that would override the draconian 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 and Speaker Boehner said after this meeting.
The President said, “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.
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