Myths About Presidential Power
Myths About Presidential Power
Matthew Jones (Political Science Instructor) gives expert video advice on: Myth- The President controls the US budget?; Myth- The President can abolish the IRS?; Myth- The President is responsible for the economy? and more...
Myth- The President controls the US budget?
The President proposes a budget because he is in charge of the administration, the bureaucracy. So different departments, Department of Education, Department of Environmental Protection and other things, request a certain amount of money for their budget. The President is the one who is in charge of the bureaucracy so he can say things like, "No, I don't think you need that money, so we're not going to have that, we're not going to have that". But the President's budget is really only a suggestion technically, to the House of Representatives, who can then go and say, "Well, you know what you didn't give enough money to the EPA so we're going to increase the EPA's budget by double, right, and then that's what they pass. So then the President has to come back and he either signs or vetoes the budget. So there's kind of a game between the House of Representatives and the President.
Myth- The President can abolish the IRS?
No. The President cannot do these radical actions like abolishing the IRS all on his own. If the President wants any one of his priorities funded, he has to go to Congress. And Congress can just say, "No, we're not going to fund that." So, if the President wants funding for rape victim prevention or rape victim counseling, Congress can say, "Nope, not going to fund it." And so the President technically can say, "I'm the head of the bureaucracy. The IRS is part of our bureaucracy. I'm just going to try and abolish the IRS that way." However, the House, the Congress, can then say, "You do that and we're going to impose penalties on you by not funding any of your other priorities." So this is the power relationship, the competition and power relationship between the two. The President cannot make any extreme decisions all on his own.
Myth- The President is responsible for the economy?
Yes, the President does have some influence over the economy and these are exercised through things like cutting taxes, which tends to be a Republican President sort of a thing; or increasing federal spending to try and create more jobs. But that doesn't necessarily have this direct impact on the economy as much as it's trying to create some more jobs to get people spending a little bit more, to create a different mood so that the people who really do have power over the economy: business leaders; stockholders; and most importantly the American consumer, which is the millions and millions of people who go and buy stuff, will feel more willing to go and buy stuff. So it's the American consumer and business leaders and stockholders that have power over the economy. The American President just influences that around the margins.
Myth- The President can cut taxes?
The President can't cut taxes all on his own, because power of the purse is lodged within the House of Representatives. He cannot cut taxes on his own. He can propose cutting taxes, he can push for cutting taxes, but Congress has to approve a tax cut. And that's why certain Democrats said, "We don't approve of President Bush's tax cut -- we're going to vote against it." Even John McCain voted against the tax cut. Now he says that's because there weren't spending cuts going along with it. The point is that President Bush's tax cuts, or any president's tax cuts, have to be approved by Congress.
Myth- The President is the most powerful person in the world?
The President is often considered the most powerful man in the world because he is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, however there are many other political leaders who have a lot more power in terms of their ability to say something and have that get implemented as policy. Dictators, for instance, they don't have to deal with things like the Senate, Supreme Court or voters, so they obviously have a lot more power over their own policies. They have a lot more power to say, "Us as a country are going to do this." or "Us as a country are doing to do that." Whereas the President has a lot of problems when it comes to that. It's more difficult for the President to make promises, international promises, like for instance signing the Kyoto protocol, when you can promise yes I'm going to sign the Kyoto protocol then you have to send it to the Senate and they say nope, not going to ratify it. Well crap, what do you do then? So, the President is the most powerful single individual but the President as an office is not the most powerful office in the United States. There's divided power. The Supreme Court is gaining a lot more power these days than the President originally had and in the Constitution, the Constitution thought that Congress was going to be the most powerful branch.
Myth- The President can declare war on anyone?
The President does not have the power to declare war. That is constitutionally left in the hands of Congress who has the power to declare war or not to declare war. That is technically the case, but over the years there have been grey areas and qualifications that have gone into that. The Vietnam War, for instance, was not a declared war. It was a police action. The President is still the commander-in-chief of the military. So even if Congress declares war on a particular country, the President still has power to, for instance, not order troops over there. The President has the power to order troops wherever he wants to.
Myth- The President can grant amnesty to all immigrants?
That's either punishment or removal of punishment, or amnesty, which is a law, and the President cannot pass a law on his own. It has to get approved by Congress, and then he has the power to veto or to not veto it. He can propose it, but even then he has to go to a member of Congress and say, "Can you introduce this piece of legislation for me?" Then that guy or girl introduces the legislation, and Congress says yes or no, and then the President can sign or veto that law. A lot of times the President proposes a law, and by the time it gets to his desk, it's changed so radically that he no longer supports it. So he vetoes the law that he originally proposed.
Myth- The President can't control our borders?
The border the president actually does have significant influence over that because he can call up the national guard. He has direction over immigration nationalization services. He can create executive orders, which is just the president saying, "Hey you, do what I say!" About how the immigration officials are going to make decisions or do their job. So he can say "I want you to be much more harsh." Or scrutinize these people who come up for immigration review much more harshly or much more loosely. He can say people who are captured and found within the United States as undocumented, I want you to deport them all, and he has the power to say that. Of course then again, Congress has the power to say "If you do that, then we're going to fight you by not funding some of your priorities that you have talked to us."
Myth- President Bush made a unilateral decision to invade Iraq?
In terms of the Iraq war, there's been some quibbling over whether there was a formal declaration or not. The congress voted, however, to authorize a "use of force." And now a lot of democratic members of congress, said, they meant only in certain circumstances. However, they didn't put that in there. So, authorization of force in Iraq is not a formal declaration. We are declaring war on you. But it is...many people consider the equivalent of that or rising to that level.
Myth- President Bush withdrew the US from the Kyoto Treaty?
We were never part of the Kyoto Treaty because the Senate, which was a Democratic Senate, never signed the Kyoto Treaty. When people say Bush pulled out, Bush just unsigned it. President Clinton Signed it but it was never ratified. So it never had the force of law in the United States. Bush just unsigned it. So it was kind of a technical thing but essentially the Senate never ratified it so it was never law. Bush just said, "Well, I'm just going to unsign the Treaty. So it's, but it was never law in the first place.
Myth- The President can overturn Roe v Wade?
The President has absolutely no power whatsoever to overturn Roe v Wade. That power is directly and confidently lodged within the Supreme Court of the United States. What the President can do is nominate Justices. It is his constitutional responsibility to pick people who he will nominate to be members of the Supreme Court. So what he can do is he can go to Justices and he can pick Justices who he believes are going to be people who are going to overturn Roe v Wade, or going to vote conservative, or liberal or any direction he wants. Now he can't just give them a list of questions and say "On abortion will you overturn Roe v Wade?" That's considered bad and most judges will simply not answer the question. If a case comes before the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v Wade the President has a sole discretion whether to say that the US government supports overturning the position that's going to overturn Roe v Wade, or the US government supports the position that's against overturning Roe v Wade or the US government's neutral and they're not going to say anything. The President has that discretion.
Myth- The President dictates healthcare policy?
Congress has the power over the purse strings, and it has the power over creating laws, and in order to create reform of healthcare you not only have to reform the bureaucracy , which the President has the power to do all on his own, but you also have to fund these new reforms which the House of Representatives has the power over and you have to create new laws which Congress has to approve any laws. So no, the President has to check with Congress, it has to check with the Senate and the House before he can get any expansive healthcare reforms. And even after that, any expansive healthcare reforms are going to be challenged in court, and the Supreme Court's going to be able to have its say on whether certain provisions of it are unconstitutional or whatever. But even before he does that, because healthcare is still, unless you nationalize all of healthcare, it's still going to be run by private organizations, private businesses, he has to talk to them and get them on board, and get healthcare advocates on board, or he's not going to get anything done anyways.
Myth- The President dictates school prayer policy?
The reason why the President doesn't have much power over school prayer is because most education policy is decided in the states, not at the national level. As a matter of fact, the overwhelming majority of education funding and education leadership happens at the state level. The federal government gives a lot of money, multiple billions of dollars, however the states give vastly more money than that. Upwards of 50% of the state's budget is education, so the state governments have a lot more power over education and over determining prayer in public schools than the President does. Also, prayer in public schools is a separation of Church and State issue, which is a first amendment constitutional issue, so the federal court system and the state court system have a lot more power over whether there's prayer in public schools than the President does. He has very minimal power over determining whether there's prayer in public schools.
Myth- The President can't do anything without the approval of Congress?
Well, the President can do many things unilaterally and obviously I am not going to be able to cover them all, but to give you some of the important ones. The President can make an Executive Order. Executive Orders are essentially laws for the administration, laws for the bureaucracy or laws for the executive branch of government. Because he is the head of the public safety forces, he can determine which laws are enforced more and which laws are enforced less. So when President Clinton was President, medical marijuana laws, which the Federal Government considers illegal, were not enforced that much. When President Bush was the President, he put in John Ashcroft as Attorney General. John Ashcroft put a little bit more priority to enforcing medical marijuana laws.