What would happen if the president of your HOA decided he didn’t need a vote of the board to close the pool to build tennis courts?
What if your mayor decided she didn’t need the city council or zoning board to weigh in on whether to allow a corporate complex to be built in the center of town?
What if the CEO of a Fortune 50 corporation decided he could do whatever he wanted with the company’s finances?
In each case it would be an abuse of power that would be harmful to the community.
Checks and balances protect organizations from potential corruption, negligence, and error by preventing too much power from accumulating in the hands of one unaccountable person.
What’s true for an HOA, a town, or a multinational corporation applies to a nation. One of the ways the United States’ charter – the Constitution – creates checks and balances is through Separation of Powers.
Three branches of government each have separate responsibilities:
- Legislative: those who write the law
- Executive: Those who execute the law
- Judiciary: Those who interpret the law
One of Congress’s duties is to appropriate money for government programs. The administration spends the money enforcing the law and cannot legally spend money on projects not authorized by law.
Why are we talking about this now? An important court case was recently decided, although you probably didn’t hear about it.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration gave money to insurance companies without Congressional approval. In turn, Congress sued in court to make the administration abide by the Constitution.
The suit, United States House of Representatives v. Alex M. Azar II, et al. (originally known as House v. Burwell) ended at the DC Court recently with a settlement. It preserved the ruling of a lower court that spending taxpayer money without an appropriation law passed by Congress violates the Constitution.
Why is this important? Had the Court allowed the administration to give money to insurance companies without Congress’s permission this one time, it would set a precedent that the administration could do it again. The executive could spend money as it wished, essentially making up laws without Congress anytime it wished.
Executives in autocratic countries do this all of the time. Voters choose members of a legislature but the president disregards their laws whenever he or she wishes.
Fortunately this settlement upheld America’s system of separation of powers, one of the essential checks and balances that keeps any one part of government from accumulating too much power and doing as it pleases.
What are your thoughts?
Should the president — any president — be able to spend what they want, when they want, or should their job be to do the work assigned to them by the people (via our representatives in Congress)? Let us know on Facebook!
Also, this is a good time to ask, what is the right size of government? Check out our “Growth of Government” section to learn more about that question and solutions when government gets too big.