Imbalance of Powers: Constitutional Interpretation and the Making of American Foreign Policy

By Gordon Silverstein | Go to book overview

6
The Legislative Response: Legal Solutions to Political Problems

Facing the Cold War and the complexity of nuclear weapons after the Second World War, most in Congress were eager to centralize authority in foreign policy and delegate ever broader powers to the president. On intelligence questions, as on many issues of foreign policy, "Congress chose not to be involved and preferred to be uninformed." 1 But that conviction was shaken by a series of abuses that were disclosed in the 1970s. The continuing American involvement in Indochina, combined with electoral pressure and genuine outrage over domestic abuses of executive power, led many legislators to seek greater oversight. 2 Starting with the War Powers Resolution of 1973, Congress passed a host of legislation in an effort to assert a more active role in a number of foreign policy areas ranging from intelligence to defense spending, foreign aid, international trade, weapons sales, emergency powers, and arms control. 3 Though these policy areas have very different histories, and the measures designed to assert a congressional role in each can only be fully understood within the context of the particular policy area, 4 there are common traits in the different methods legislators have employed to try to increase congressional influence in each. But congressional influence is not the same as formal power or outright authority. As Richard Neustadt put it in the 1990 revision and expansion of his 1960 classic on presidential power, we should "keep in mind the distinction between two senses in which the word power is employed." One sense is when it is used "to refer to formal constitutional, statutory or customary authority" and the other is in the "sense of effective influence on the conduct of others." Neustadt sug-

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