Richard M. Nixon - The backlash against nixon's prerogatives





Nixon's actions inevitably provoked a strong response. First the federal courts forced Nixon to comply with the Constitution and the laws. Then Congress had its turn. The Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 set new terms for presidential impoundments. The president would have to propose deferrals, which would go into effect unless either house, by simple resolution, disapproved of his plan, in which case the funds would be spent. Rescissions would be submitted by the president in the form of a legislative measure, which would have to be approved by both houses and signed into law before going into effect.

Congress expanded its use of the legislative veto, a mechanism that permits Congress, by simple resolution of one house or concurrent resolution of both houses, to block an action taken, or proposed to be taken, by the president or some other administration official. Laws may even provide that a committee majority, committee chair, or designated employee of Congress can exercise such a veto over the actions of an official of the executive branch. Legislative vetoes were rarely inserted into laws prior to the Nixon administration. Most involved minor matters; housekeeping items; or matters that Congress did not wish to control, such as reorganization of the bureaucracy, pay for federal employees, or certain tariff decisions.

During the Nixon years Congress more than doubled the number of legislative vetoes. It applied them to important issues: arms sales, transfers of nuclear technology, deferrals of appropriated funds. The most significant provision involved the War Powers Act of 1973. Passed over Nixon's veto, it provided that the president could use the armed forces only pursuant to a declaration of war or other congressional authorization, to repel an attack on the United States, its possessions, or its armed forces. If the president sent troops into hostilities or into a situation in which hostilities were imminent, he was obliged to report this fact to Congress within forty-eight hours.

The key provision of the act was legislative veto over the presidential direction of the armed forces. Once the president issued his first report, he would have sixty days in which to use the military. At the end of that time, unless Congress had authorized continued use of the armed forces, the president would have thirty days to complete their withdrawal. (If continuation were authorized, he would subsequently report on the use of the armed forces every six months while they were engaged in hostilities.) At any time after the first report was issued, Congress could, by concurrent resolution (not subject to presidential veto), direct that the forces be withdrawn in thirty days.

The legislative veto provision could force the president to withdraw at any time. Unless Congress affirmatively gave its approval, the sixty-day provision would automatically require the president to effect a withdrawal. A president sending troops into hostilities would not only have to avoid the legislative veto at the outset; he also would have to win congressional support within sixty days to pursue his goals.

Nixon denounced the law as an unconstitutional infringement on his powers as commander in chief, a position reaffirmed by all of his successors. Subsequently Ford and Carter acted in ways that minimized the effect of the act. In 1983 the Supreme Court, in Chadha v. Immigration and Naturalization Service , declared the legislative veto to be a violation of the principle of the separation of powers. Thus, a decade after Nixon left the White House, a Supreme Court dominated by his appointees managed to eliminate many of the checks that had been placed on presidential prerogatives.





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