Did Clinton destroy the balance of power?

Alamo asked this question on 5/28/2000:

Dear Experts:

With regard to presidential powers
limited by the constitution.

What is your take on President "Slick Willie", and what he has done to The
Constitution of our Republic?

Specifically his "executive orders"?

Roger Sherman ( a signer of the Constitution ) " On the question of
the relative importance of the proposed three branches of Federal government, Roger Sherman came down decisively on the side of legislative supremacy"

Would you not agree that the "Founders of our Republic" are rolling over in their respective graves right now?

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/28/2000:

I'm not a Constitutional scholar so this will be more opinion that expertise.

Yes, as I understand it, Clinton has promulgated more Executive Orders than any other president. Perhaps there will be a long-lasting precedent set there. But I think there are a couple of important aspects to consider:

1) The Line-Item Veto is pretty much dead.

Clinton tested it out; the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional; and there's not going to be enough momentum to make an amendment to change that. So the concept is dead for the foreseeable future. The relevance to your question is that a Line-Item Veto would have been a major shift in power to the Executive and away from Congress. Clinton (and Pres. Bush) pushed it enough to test the constitutional limits, and an important conclusion was reached -- power stayed with Congress.

2) The Balanced Budget Amendment is pretty much dead.

The BBA would have been another shift in power from the Legislature to the Executive, and it too has become moot under Clinton. The "voluntary" balancing of the budget has removed all momentum from the BBA, so there's not going to be an amendment any time soon. And furthermore, all policy proposals now routinely include how to pay for them (which was not the case prior to the BBA fervor in the 1980s). So we're unlikely to get major deficits again in this decade; hence budget power will stay concentrated in Congress as it always has been.

3) Scrutiny of the personal life of presidents is now a permanent feature of the political landscape.

Clinton's impeachment made personal lives of presidents and aspirants a given political fact. That weakens presidents too.

I think overall, the balance of power between the president and Congress is still balanced. As always, the details of that balance go back and forth, depending on the personality of the president and the issues before Congress. But I don't think Slick Willie's antics have permanently shifted power away from Congress, as your question indicates.

Yes, it's likely that future presidents will be freer to rule by Executive Order because of Clinton's liberal use of them. But they'll be balanced by the three things above, and Congress will still be pretty powerful.

With regards to what the opinions of the Founders would be, well, checks and balances seem to have worked pretty well. Clinton got impeached, after all, which will be a permanent sullying of his legacy. But the House was "balanced" by the Senate's non-removal. So Clinton got sullied, an appropriate result for his sullying of the presidency. I'd say that's the way things should work, in the eyes of the Founders.

gygy78 asked this question on 4/3/2000:

The executive office of the President of the U.S. is considered to be very powerful, and at the same time democratic, meaning the President is not able to become a dictator because of checks and balances in the political system. I wonder know how historically the President's office developed as it is today?? thank you

budgetanalyst gave this response on 4/3/2000:

What you have to keep in mind about the U.S. system of government is that historical precedents have a large part in what happens today. The first and foremost influence on the Presidency was George Washington. He set the tone for the office, and established many precedents.

He had the clear opportunity to become a dictator, and the people would not have opposed him such was his popularity, but he chose not to become one because doing so was the right thing to do.

Washington established the clear-cut differentiation from Congress. He went to a congressional session once, did not like what he saw, and never went back. This set the precedent for Presidents not participating in what Congress does.

Over time, events have set what the office is like. When there are times of national emergency, the President assumes or is given powers that are not needed or wanted in more peaceful times. The Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Cold War confrontations with the Soviet Union and China, stretching from the 1930s to the 1990s, gave an unprecedented need for strong Federal actions which had to be carried out by a strong executive. Actions justified by war needs spilled over into the domestic scene (such as the unconstitutional internment of citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry). In essence, national emergencies have been used to justify Executive actions that would not have been permissible in other times. And Congress has provided the necessary laws and funding.

But circumstances of emergency and war are moderated by the incumbent's beliefs in the role of government. President Eisenhower was as much faced with the Soviet threat as President Kennedy, but Eisenhower was less inclined toward an active government role than Kennedy, so their administrations were somewhat different in the amount of Presidential activism, especially in domestic affairs.

Today we are entering an era with less obvious external problems, and the role of government (as well as the President) is less than it was in the Roosevelt-Truman era. This is because the people do not perceive as much need for common action against a common enemy, and Congress reflects this perception by denying the President some of the things he wants.

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