Checks and Balances, RIP
George Will has a column in today’s WaPo, “Making Congress Moot,” making a point that I’ve been making about the Bush administration’s dubious use of TARP funds to bail out the auto companies.
Congress’s marginalization was brutally underscored when, after lawmakers did not authorize $14 billion for General Motors and Chrysler, the executive branch said, in effect: Congress’s opinions are mildly interesting, so we will listen very nicely — then go out and do precisely what we want.
On Friday the president gave the two automakers access to money Congress explicitly did not authorize. More money — up to $17.4 billion — than had been debated, thereby calling to mind Winston Churchill on naval appropriations: “The Admiralty had demanded six ships: the economists offered four: and we finally compromised on eight.”
The president is dispensing money from the $700 billion Congress provided for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The unfounded assertion of a right to do this is notably brazen, given the indisputable fact that if Congress had known that TARP — supposedly a measure for scouring “toxic” assets from financial institutions — was to become an instrument for unconstrained industrial policy, it would not have been passed.
This isn’t even slightly hyperbolic. The thing is, though, as Dave Schuler noted on Wednesday’s OTB Radio, Congress has the ability to stop this — and virtually every other bit of executive overreach that many of us constantly complain about — at any time it musters up the will to do so. That it hasn’t means, essentially, that it doesn’t want to.