Diseases of the US Political System
“instability, injustice and confusion introduced into the public councils, have in truth been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished”
James Madison, Federalist 10
The James Madison Project
Citizen Brief: Declaration of War
The need for reform stems from the gravity and uncertainty posed by war powers questions. Few would dispute that the most important decisions our leaders make involve war. Yet after more than 200 years of constitutional history, what powers the respective branches of government possess in making such decisions is still heavily debated. The Constitution provides both the President and Congress with explicit grants of war powers, as well as a host of arguments for implied powers. How broadly or how narrowly to construe these powers is a matter of ongoing debate. Indeed, the Constitution’s framers disputed these very issues in the years following the Constitution’s ratifi cation, expressing contrary views about the respective powers of the President, as “Commander in Chief,” and Congress, which the Constitution grants the power “To declare War.”
No clear mechanism or requirement exists today for the President and Congress to consult. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 contains only vague consultation requirements. Instead, it relies on reporting requirements that, if triggered, begin the clock running for Congress to approve the particular armed confl ict. By the terms of the 1973 Resolution, however, Congress need not act to disapprove the confl ict; the cessation of all hostilities is required in 60 to 90 days merely if Congress fails to act. Many have criticized this aspect of the Resolution as unwise and unconstitutional, and no President in the past 35 years has fi led a report “pursuant” to these triggering provisions. This is not healthy. It does not promote the rule of law. It does not send the right message to our troops or to the public. And it does not encourage dialogue or cooperation between the two branches.
"It's not right to ask men and women to go into harm's way on behalf of the nation if there isn't a political consensus supporting the mission that they have to sacrifice for," said Sen. Kaine. "None of these issues, Syria or other issues we face today, whether it be Iran or North Korea, none of them are easy. But I think they are made harder because of the fact that we don't have a clear, consultative norm that is accepted and has been accepted. We can fix this in a way that respects the constitutional prerogatives of both branches, that is more likely to lead to the kind of political consensus that the American public deserves, and that our men and women in uniform deserve."