August 15, 2011 2:06PM

More on Waivers and the Rule of Law

In my weekly Britannica column, I respond to the charge that I am dumb and expand the discussion of sweeping legislation, the apparently increasing use of waivers by Cabinet officials, and how that comports with the rule of law:

We’ve been reminded in the past few weeks that we live in a world where Congress passes vast, expansive laws that make grand promises and that few if any members of Congress actually read, and then inserts into them the power for the president or his appointees to waive sections of them when they become unworkable or bump up against the interests of the well connected. …

Over the past decade Congress has passed many such expansive and aspirational laws—the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, TARP, the stimulus bill (“the Democrats’ Patriot Act“), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—that put power into the hands of the bureaucracy. My colleagues at the Cato Institute and I have often warned members of Congress about the dangers of that practice, often pointing out that someday the White House will be in the hands of the other party, and they may not like what their opponents do with such sweeping powers. Appealing to conservatives in a column on the detention of Jose Padilla, Robert A. Levy wrote, “Even persons convinced that President Bush cherishes civil liberties and understands that the Constitution is not mere scrap paper, must be unsettled by the prospect that an unknown and less honorable successor could exploit some of the dangerous precedents that the Bush administration has put in place.” In a column on President Obama’s intervention into the economy, I asked Democrats, “If you still have warm feelings toward Obama and his good intentions, ask yourself this: Will you feel comfortable one day when the appointees of President Romney or President Palin are exercising unconstitutional, unauthorized, unreviewable authority to restructure the economy the way they see fit?”

And that’s why I wrote in the Britannica entry on libertarianism, “A fundamental characteristic of libertarian thinking is a deep skepticism of government power.” Would that liberals and conservatives displayed the same skepticism.

Full column here.