Posted: March 24th, 2023
In the United States Constitution, the presidency is vested with executive authority. Therefore, the President symbolizes absolute executive authority (Ginsberg, et. al. 2014: 313). In fact, the framers of the law perceived a situation where the country would require strong leadership that will be independent and accountable to the people. In the process of creating a strong presidency with executive power, the delegates were fighting different ideologies regarding the power of the executive. Whereas some quarters envisaged a head of state that was elected and accountable to the Congress and states, others wanted a strong leader with grassroots support and connection along with independence. In fact, the autonomous institution of the presidency was seen as a constructive pillar towards the accountability of the president to the people and not to the states.
As a result, the constitution grants the president some powers through which the authority is exercised. However, the law also establishes checks and balances where the president exercises some of his authority with the approval of the Congress. In general, this has been described as a weakness in the powers of the president. Consequently, the head of state has two types of controls, including the constitutional and institutional. First, the constitutional powers are those envisaged under the law as legitimate powers of the president. Secondly, the institutional powers denote these powers that come with the executive arm of government where the president acts as the custodian of common welfare as a leader. On numerous occasions, presidents have utilized their institutional powers to overcome the weakness of constitutional powers.
Powers of the President
Fundamentally, the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces (Ginsberg, et. al. 2014: 316). As a result, he is in charge of all the security and defense apparatus and departments as well as the custodian of the country’s security. Therefore, this is a constitutional power that emerged from the fact that the leader of the country ought to be in control of the armed forces. As the head of the country’s military, the president can declare war or invoke a change in laws or policies to protect America. However, at this point, the president cannot exercise this power without consulting the Congress. In addition, the approval of Congress is mandatory in the course of declaring war or deploying the United States’ military in a foreign country. Therefore, to circumvent this weakness in their constitutional powers, various presidents have resorted to their institutional powers. For instance, the President can invoke his executive authority to sanction a military operation before the consent of the Congress. Such a move is often justified along the lines of emergency and perceived threat to the security of the United States. A typical example was the series of war activities commonly termed as the “war on terror” by the then President George W Bush. In this case, the Bush sanctioned the war in Iraq without the consent of the Congress. Being aware that the Congress would not sanction such a war, the President certified the imminent threat to America’s security by Iraq as urgent. In fact, Bush only sought the approval of the Congress for the war budget.
On the other hand, the institutional powers are always the resort for presidents when seeking to create a balance between their role as the leaders and weaknesses in their constitutional powers. Since the president controls various intelligence and security agencies in the country, he/she can justify his/her actions as being a matter of urgency. In particular, one very practical area has been security where, for instance, during the September eleven attack, the president was required to offer direction to the country that was shaken by the events of the moment. During this time, the head of state invoked his institutional emergency powers to make decisions that would not have been possible under normal circumstances. Therefore, emergency situations offer the best opportunities for to broaden the president’s scope of power in the country.
In essence, it is believed that during emergency situations, there is no time to consult the Congress. Expressively, when America is under attack, the President has the supreme institutional authority to protect the country. Therefore, he can suspend some provisions of the constitution to make decisions that he/she thinks are good for the security of the country.
Notably, the Commander-in-chief cannot commit the public coffers of the country without consulting the Congress (Ginsberg, et. al. 2014: 316). In fact, the Congress is the custodian of public money, and Congress must approve all expenses upon evaluating the situation at hand. When the country faces an emergency situation that comprises terrorist attacks or natural disasters, the president can order expenditures that must be ratified immediately because of the nature of events. Therefore, the leader circumvents the weaknesses in the constitutional powers by invoking institutional powers.
There have been numerous instances where Premiers have resorted to their political resources to overcome the weaknesses in the institutional powers. In fact, political resources often denote their political support or numerical strength in the Congress. Specifically, the American Presidents often endeavor to have a majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In such a situation, it becomes easier for the president to make decisions without necessarily following the red tape. Moreover, through majority representation in the Congress, the leader can easily influence motions and debates in the House.
In addition, the use of political resources has been very handy for the sitting presidents in the process of seeking to overcome the inherent weaknesses in constitutional powers. In fact, matters of accountability present a huge challenge because the Congress counterchecks most of the constitutional powers (Ginsberg, et. al. 2014: 316). Therefore, when the president’s party has a minority in the Congress, his/her powers become very limited because the opposing party will not approve most of his decisions, policies, or choices. For instance, during the enactment of the Obamacare, it could have become very difficult if the Republicans had a majority in Congress because they could have opposed the bill in entirety. Furthermore, the health reform bill was inherently opposed by the Republican Party and the Obama administration only succeeded in passing it through because of the numerical strength of the Democratic Party. Therefore, political resources are very important in overcoming the weaknesses in constitutional powers of the president. Additionally, through marshaling numbers in Congress, the president can increase his clout and overcome weaknesses in his/her power. Moreover, through numerical strength in the Congress, the decisions and powers of the head of state are not entirely questioned or criticized. Finally, another point of weakness in presidential powers would be demonstrated if Republican-dominated Congress would decline to enact laws. In this case, there would be a near shutdown of the economy because the Republicans would endeavor to bring down the democratic government through legislation bottlenecks.
The Future Balance of Power
In light of the underlying flaws of the constitutional powers of the president and the resort to institutional powers in addition to political resources to surmount these weaknesses, there is the likelihood that a new order of balancing power will emerge in the future (Ginsberg, et. al. 2014: 316). Therefore, Congress and the presidency ought to come up with a new formula that will facilitate executive authority. Furthermore, the existing weaknesses of the constitutional powers of the head of state undermine the role of the executive along with its independence. However, the underlying weakness was not the intention of the framers of the country’s constitution because they did everything possible to guarantee the supremacy of the presidency as the custodian of executive authority. In addition, the delegates considered the concept of sovereignty through creating the three independent arms of government, namely the judiciary, congress, and the executive. Accordingly, it appears that the reason behind equipping the executive with pronounced powers was to ensure that the president was capable of performing the duties efficiently. Therefore, the inherent weaknesses in the constitutional powers undermine the authority of the leader of the United States. As a matter of fact, the relationship between Congress and the presidency should be complementary and not antagonistic. Incidentally, the powers of checks and balances vested in the Congress have been used to undermine the constitutional authority of the presidency (Ginsberg, et. al. 2014: 322).
As it is evident from the analysis, the president is vested with both constitutional and institutional powers to administer his/her authority. Therefore, the makers of the constitution envisaged a situation where he/she would require certain powers to carry out the statutory duties. However, there are numerous weaknesses in the constitutional powers of the president. Subsequently, leaders have resorted to their institutional powers along with political resources to compensate for these weaknesses. In future, there will be a need for a new formula that will seek to balance power between Congress and the president.
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