War Funding Impasse Debated in Columbus

A poitical stalemate in Washington over funding for troops has sparked debate and discussion nationwide. The Central Ohio Federalist Society weighed in on Wednesday as it hosted columnist David Rivkin. Rivkin told the audience at the Athletic Club of Columbus that congressional “micro-managing” of the Iraq War will lead to a constitutional confrontation.

David Rivkin worked in President Regan’s and the elder President Bush’s administrations and now practices law. He says that while Congress has the power to allocate money – or not – for the Iraq War, the Constitution prohibits Congressional involvement in day-to-day military affairs.

“In general Congress can de-fund a given war. Congress can never micro-manage how the war is fought,” Rivkin says. “You cannot say, March up the hill, use air power but not artillery,’ that’s never possible. But Congress is talking about cutting off funds to impede our ability to participate in this war.”

A bill pending in the House would halt funding for combat operations by the end of August, 2008. The Senate’s version is less specific. Either way according to Rivkin, Congress is usurping part of the president’s authority by intervening in the executive branch of government.

“What Congress is doing is unconstitutional,” he says. “It seeks to micromanage the president’s powers as Commander-In-Chief, even more improperly it aggrandizes the separation of powers and actually threatens individual liberty.”

Rivkin says he thinks the funding dispute will end in a constitutional showdown. But Capital University law professor Mark Brown disagrees. The Constitution’s Article 2 says the president is Commander-In-Chief. But Brown says a section in Article 1 clearly gives Congress the power to regulate spending.

“Congress can use its purse strings to try to shame the president into altering his behavior.” Brown says. “I think that’s what the democrats are trying to do anyway. And so they pass legislation and Bush vetoes it. There’s going to be a lot of finger pointing back and forth. That’s all just part of the political process.”

It’s going to stay political Brown says because the clash between the executive and legislative branches is in a gray area. He says the Supreme Court tends not to get involved in foreign affairs or matters of war. The dispute, he says, will play out between President Bush and the Democratically-controlled Congress.

The constitution was intended to pit branches of government against each other through that separation of powers, through that conflict,” Brown says. “The framers intended to insure liberty of the individual. And so to the extent that’s happening today, it’s working.”

The director of the American Legion’s Ohio division also spoke at the meeting. He called the House bill a “blueprint for disaster” and the Senate’s legislation a “recipe for surrender.” Donald Lanthom also called a publicized timetable for withdrawal from Iraq a “tragic mistake.” And he said President Bush should veto any such legislation. Mr. Bush has already promised to veto any bill which he believes will adversely affect the war in Iraq.