The most important thing Paul Ryan said after his much-hyped meeting with Donald Trump on Thursday had nothing to do with endorsing the GOP’s presumptive nominee, or with talking Trump into supporting the conservative ideas that the candidate has said aren’t necessarily part and parcel of the party. The most important thing Ryan said had to do with reasserting the place of Congress as first among the three co-equal branches of the federal government.
Ryan said the men “discussed the core principles that tie us all together: principles like the Constitution, the separation of powers, the fact that we have an executive that has gone way beyond the boundaries of the Constitution, and how it’s important to us that we restore Article I of the Constitution.” He has been hitting on this theme a lot recently, as well he should: Over the past 15-plus years, a consistent message brought by inconsistent (read: partisan) messengers is that the executive branch has become too powerful. Liberals said it about George W. Bush; conservatives have leveled the charge at Barack Obama. If they had any principle to them — a big “if” — both groups should be willing to sound the alarm now, when it’s unclear which party will control the White House starting in January.
Ryan, at least, is willing to make that argument. And two pieces of news since Thursday’s Ryan-Trump meeting underscore why others should join him.
The first was a federal court ruling that the Obama administration was wrong to spend money on Obamacare subsidies that Congress hadn’t appropriated. Just because Congress authorized the program (when it passed the Affordable Care Act) doesn’t mean the administration can spend money on it if Congress hasn’t also authorized funding for it. “Congress is the only source for such an appropriation, and no public money can be spent without one,” wrote U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer.
Democrats who howled about Bush’s powers in office want to paint this lawsuit, which was filed by the House GOP, as a matter of animosity toward poor people (the subsidies in question go to insurance companies on the Obamacare exchanges that have enrolled, and in turn subsidized, low-income customers). And maybe you are inclined to believe the only reason the House GOP sued in this case was because it doesn’t like Obamacare and is running out of ways to stop it. OK, fine. That doesn’t change the fact the principle here is the correct one: Only Congress has the power of the purse, and if the Supreme Court can rule the line-item veto unconstitutional because it usurps the legislature’s power to spend money, then it should follow that the executive branch also acts unconstitutionally when it usurps the legislature’s power not to spend money.
Then this morning the Departments of Education and Justice issued “guidance” that every public school in America must allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. This is based solely on the administration’s belief that “sex discrimination” barred by Title IX includes gender identity. The administration doesn’t want this novel, legally unproven theory about the meaning of “sex” to be subject to the legislative process, but rather to make law (a legislative duty) by interpreting the law (a judicial prerogative).
If you support this action because you support the result, imagine for a moment that the DOJ and DOE were instead decreeing that no public school shall allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Legally and constitutionally, there is no difference between the two actions; if you object to one, you should also object to the other. Or, at the very least, you should stop pretending you care about executive overreach, just overreach by the other party.
One irony of the Obama administration’s many overreaches is that they have been crucial to the rise of a man the left detests. That’s because Trump has, if nothing else, run as a man who would simply use the powers of the presidency, exaggerated by President Phone-and-Pen, for different ends. Paul Ryan is right to resist this no matter who the president is, now or come Jan. 20, and if Democrats won’t acknowledge that, other congressional Republicans should. As I said jokingly last summer, it’s perhaps the best thing that could come of Trump as a serious presidential candidate.