Term Paper, 2008, 8 Pages
University College Cork - Department of Government: GV2001 Politics of the United States of America
The principles of the separation of powers and checks and balances as reflected in the United States Constitution
1. Introduction: Paulson’s quarrel with Congress P. 1
2. Checks and balances in the Constitution of the United States P. 2
3. Conclusion: Constitutional gridlock? P. 7
1. Introduction: Paulson’s quarrel with Congress
The current global financial crisis has seen different governments taking similar steps in order to restore trust and confidence in the shaken financial system: vast, multi-billion bail-out plans. However, the celerity of the legislative implementation of these countermeasures differs greatly from country to country. A comparison of how these parliamentary acts passed the legislation in Germany and the United States provides an interesting insight into the functioning of the respective systems of government.
On the 13 th of October, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a rescue package worth 500-billion Euros for German banks (DW-World, 13.10.2008). Only four days later, on the
17 th of October, both houses of the German parliament voted in favour of the plan (Reuters, 17.10.2008). The reason for this expeditious achievement lies in Germany’s parliamentary system of government: The cabinet and the governing majority in the German Bundestag constitute a densely interwoven unit which is very unlikely to offer governmental initiatives intraparty resistance.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Treasury Henry M. Paulson had to face a great deal of congressional resistance in order to pass a $700 billion bail-out called “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008”. Congressional criticism centred primarily on a provision that “left the bail-out completely in his [Paulson’s] hands, without the possibility of review by Congress, the courts or any other agency” (NY Times, 18.10.2008). After his first proposal on
the 19 th of September, multiple revisions of the original plan were necessary until the bill passed Congress on the 3 rd of October. American newspapers accompanied those two weeks with a language that reminds of economic or diplomatic talks rather than political negotiations: For the purpose of gaining parliamentary approval, the Bush administration was forced to “sell the bailout plan to dubious lawmakers” (NY Times, 22.09.2008, italics added) and “face rough questioning” (ibid.) by both Democrats and Republicans. This episode is indicative of the level of persuasion that goes into lawmaking in the US. The troubled legislative process is rooted in its presidential system of government, which, unlike Germany’s parliamentarism, is characterised by separation of powers with an elaborate system of checks and balances among the three constitutional branches: Congress (House of Representatives and Senate), presidency and the courts (the Supreme Court in particular). In the following I want to trace back this “vehicle for guaranteeing limits on government power” (Kassop, 2006: 73) to the historical intention of its framers, assess the current distribution of powers and discuss problematic developments.
2. Checks and balances in the Constitution of the United States
2.1 Historical intentions of the framers
After the successful upheaval against British rule, 13 former colonies ratified the Articles of Confederation in 1781, thereby creating a loose confederation of sovereign states. But soon the demand for a new constitution arose. As the Articles of Confederation left too much power to the states (Lowi, Ginsberg and Shepsle, 2006: 78), economic progress was impeded
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