Just What the Founders Feared: An Imperial President Goes to War

The New York Times ran a great editorial today about the power of the purse to curtail the presidential power to make war. If you read what some of the Founding Father’s wrote you would think they were addressing President Bush.

"The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”
The founders would have been astonished by President Bush’s assertion that Congress should simply write him blank checks for war. They gave Congress the power of the purse so it would have leverage to force the president to execute their laws properly. Madison described Congress’s control over spending as “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.” The framers expected Congress to keep the president on an especially short leash on military matters. The Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money for an army, but prohibits appropriations for longer than two years. Hamilton explained that the limitation prevented Congress from vesting “in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.”

Our Founding Father’s were wise to assign the power of the purse to Congress. Congress shouldn’t fear political backlash by using it.