By DOUG THOMPSON
The absolute and unrelenting takeover of the government of the United States by George W. Bush continues – right under the noses of the new Democratic leadership of Congress and in outright defiance of the wishes of the American voters who sent a clear mandate for change in last year’s elections.
Bush recently made more moves to consolidate power in the executive branch, signing an order that requires key government agencies to place his political appointees in positions to control policy on health, environmental issues, civil rights and privacy.
These political hacks, appointed without review or approval of Congress, can now “interpret” the laws as they – or their President – see fit without regulatory oversight or a requirement to report to anyone.
Even worse, my White House sources tell me that Bush is putting into place a carefully-crafted plan to extend his power and influence over government policy long after he leaves office on January 20, 2009.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, at Bush’s direction, is advising cabinet secretaries to convert these political appointees to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions before Bush’s second term ends, giving hand-picked policy makers absolute authority even after the President leaves office.
SES positions are protected by federal civil service, so the policy makers could not be replaced by an incoming President – Democrat or Republican — who follows Bush.
Bush plans to place his loyalists throughout federal agencies, give them authority to control policy for as long as they hold their jobs, and then convert those appointees to civil service positions that will continue to enforce his wishes for years to come.
Far-fetched? Not at all. Cabinet secretaries have long had the power to convert some key appointees to SES positions although – until Bush signed his executive order granting broad policy making powers to such appointees – they did not have the ability to continue a President’s programs long after he leaves office.
Bush is still hoping for at least one more vacancy on the Supreme Court before his second term ends, giving him a chance to control judicial rulings well into the next decade.
Such is the pattern of a man determined to control all phases of government without any checks and balances.
“The White House has been gaming the system for six years,” says Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and an acknowledged national expert on Constitutional law. “He has shut down Congress and slowed down the courts.”
Some hoped the Democratic takeover of Congress would stop Bush’s power grabs but he continues and the overly-cautious and gun shy leadership on Capitol Hill appears powerless to stop him.
While they consider “non-binding” resolutions on withdrawing troops from Iraq, Democratic leaders of Congress have asked for a “legal interpretation” on what power, if any, it has to stop Bush.
And who did it ask for this “interpretation?” The Attorney General of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, a Bush appointee who believes the President’s power is absolute and the one crafting the program to extend that power and influence far beyond his Constitutionally-limited two terms in office.
“If you listen to the president and some Democratic leaders, Congress can do little to stop the hemorrhaging of lives in Iraq,” Turley says.
In a recent op-ed for USA Today, Turley wrote:
The truth is that there is a lot that Congress could do. Among other things, it could stop the war. But neither the president nor many Democrats want to publicly entertain such a possibility. Indeed, the president has insisted, again, that he alone makes such decisions. When asked about what Congress can do if it opposes his build-up, Bush was dismissive and said, “Frankly, that’s not their responsibility.” Of course, the president acknowledged, “They could try to stop me from doing it…but I made my decision, and we’re going forward.”
Democratic leaders seem to be encouraging the same view of an unchecked executive. The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and other members suggested last week that it may be unconstitutional for Congress to cut funds for an escalation.
All of this would have come as a great surprise to the framers. Far from being some type of constitutional eunuchs, legislators hold the very power that determines whether a war will continue, expand or end: the power of the purse. The framers specifically justified this congressional power as a check on the president’s ability to entangle the nation in disastrous foreign adventures.
But the Democrats, to date, seem too politically timid to make the hard decisions to curb the reign of terror by Bush and his legions. They tiptoe around problems that demand quick and firm actions.
While they keep talking and debating and holding hearings and considering “non-binding” resolutions, Bush consolidates his power base and expands his unchecked authority.
The Democrats may have fiddled too long already. It may be too late. For six years, George W. Bush has worked diligently to dismantle the Constitution, rip away the freedoms that provided the foundation for this country and destroy a once-great nation called the United States of America.
And, unlike his war in Iraq or his many other failed programs, this may be the one mission he might actually accomplish.