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Time for a Constitutional amendment

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By John Barnhart

One of the provisions in the Constitution is that the president must get the Senate’s approval for his nominees to important policy making offices. Back in 1787, when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia drafted the Constitution, they didn’t envision a full time professional national legislature like we have now. They expected Congress to meet each year, do the nation’s business, and then go home. The Senate, as a result, would be in recess for much of the year. Furthermore, there was no means of instant communication back in 1787, and travel was slow, so calling the Senate back into session once it had recessed would not be something that could be done quickly. That’s why they wrote the following into the Constitution in the last paragraph of Article II, Section 2:

    “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

    Called a recess appointment, this authority has been abused by presidents in modern times when their nominees have run into trouble in the Senate. They use the recess appointment to at least temporarily evade the Senate’s authority, which was intended as a check on the president’s power.
    President Barack Obama is the worst abuser of this authority in our history. Like Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Obama seems to have a contempt for democracy when it yields results that he doesn’t like.
    The result that he doesn’t like this time is that, once again, he has nominated people for policy making offices who can’t pass muster in the Senate, even though his own party controls that chamber. The Senate by bipartisan agreement, held pro-forma sessions so that it is technically not in recess when most of its members go home. President Obama chose to ignore this early last month and made several recess appointments, including Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board, without bothering to get the Senate’s consent.    
    It would be nice if somebody could find a way to make him realize that he is not Sultan Barack the Magnificent who appoints whomever he wills and answers to no one. He is President Barack Obama and like all other presidents before him, and everybody else, he is not above the laws of the United States, including the Constitution’s provisions.
    A couple of weeks ago Congressman Bob Goodlatte wrote in his column, which appears on the Bulletin’s Web site at www.bedfordbulletin.com, that he cosponsored a resolution of disapproval of the President’s actions. This rebuke is good, but more needs to be done.
    Congress needs to write and send to the states an amendment to the Constitution that removes the paragraph that gives the president the authority to make recess appointments. It’s an authority that has outlived its usefulness. If some important appointed official croaks, a president only has to wait a couple of weeks, not several months, to submit the name of a replacement to the Senate. All it does now is provide a tool for a president to evade the system of checks and balances that the Constitution set up — a system that requires him to get the Senate’s approval for important appointments.
    Our Constitution isn’t perfect, and that’s why it contains a mechanism that allows it to be amended when necessary. That’s been done 27 times over the 224 years that it has been in force. It’s now necessary to set that mechanism in motion again in order to protect the system of checks and balances that those men meeting in Philadelphia so wisely set up more than two centuries ago.