The Corner

Obama Flouts Congress, Orders DOJ to Buy White-Elephant Illinois Prison

So I’m in the middle of writing an “I told you so” post about Libya and, wouldn’t you know it, I have to stop so I can write an “I told you so” post about the Thomson prison in Illinois.

Recall that Thomson is the white-elephant “state of the art” detention center that the Democrats who run President Obama’s home state insisted be built but then could not fill with prisoners — which was predictable given how activists such as State Senator Barack Obama and his side-kick, terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers, complained incessantly that there were already too many people in Illinois’s jails. In 2009, the president proposed using federal money to buy the prison, which would enable him to kill two birds with one “stimulus”: (a) fulfill a promise to his Bush-deranged base to shut down the “gulag” at Gitmo, while (b) socializing the costs of his Illinois colleagues’ fiscal recklessness onto the citizens of the other 49 states. 

Obama has been blocked by bipartisan congressional opposition. So, as is his wont, he is now imperiously ignoring the naysayers, and has directed the Justice Department to go ahead and buy the prison from Illinois, using “unobligated” funds in Justice’s budget.

The move is drawing irate responses from key members of Congress, such as Representatives Frank Wolf and Hal Rogers of the House Appropriations Committee, and Pete King, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. But the question, of course, is whether they will do anything about it. Congress is not without remedies here; it can start slashing money from the Justice Department’s budget and other areas where the administration will feel it. To this point, though, despite serial provocations, they’ve shown no indication of a willingness to do that.

The Republican establishment, which gets cover from the Republican punditocracy, lamely claims that the GOP only controls “one-half of one-third of the government” and therefore can’t do anything about Obama’s profligacy as long as he is backed in it by the Democrat-controlled Senate. It is nonsense: Can you imagine the Supreme Court ever saying, “Gee, we can’t foist our preferences on the country because, after all, we’re only one-third of the government — and we’re not even elected”? We don’t have separation of powers by percentage; we have separation of powers by constitutionally assigned responsibilities.

As I’ve observed before in addressing Thomson, “The Constitution requires all revenue bills to originate in the House, a requirement the House has traditionally construed to extend to all spending bills. Republican leadership would have you believe that out-of-control government spending is on autopilot. GOP leaders want you to think that, when an executive agency like the Justice Department goes rogue, they are simply powerless to start slashing its budget. But the spending and the taxes necessary to support executive malfeasance can happen only with the House’s complicity.”

Yes, the Senate can stop the House from retracting money already appropriated, but the Senate can’t force the House to fund government at the level it is currently funded. That is only happening because Republicans are going along with it. There is no reason why the Justice Department needs to have unobligated funds at all — Congress can itemize the spending it is authorizing down to the penny. There is no reason why, for every $1 the administration spends against the popular will, Congress can’t take away $10 (or a lot more) from its budget. There is no reason why Congress can’t enact a law saying, “not one penny of public money for Thomson,” and dare Democrats to vote against it in an election year. All they need is the will to do it.

Of course, they’d need to be in session to exhibit that will, but they are not. Speaker Boehner orchestrated one of the earliest election-year congressional exoduses from Washington in the last half-century — and in the four months from August 3 through Congress’s scheduled post-election return on November 14, our lawmakers will have put in eight days of work. In sum, then, the brazen Obama directive to buy the white-elephant jail is a window into what Americans can expect from an Obama second term — or even, if Romney should win, from the ten weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

Imagine Obama, no longer concerned about political accountability, and confronted by a Congress that, for all its whining, is unwilling to use the powers the framers gave it to rein in a runaway executive. He will govern against the will of the American people: opening Thomson; closing Gitmo; transferring the Blind Sheik; funding the Muslim Brotherhood; supporting the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies in Syria just as he did in Libya and Egypt; closing Gitmo; showing Putin “more flexibility” on our defenses; moving ahead with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on restricting free speech; signing the U.S. on to other unpopular international conventions; and so on. Maybe we can take ten more weeks of this stuff, but four more years . . . ?

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