The power of oversight depends on the power of the purse. As long as the Congress appropriates money for the Executive Office of the President, it has the duty to inquire into how that money is spent.

I hope Tony Snow isn’t considering going pro as a constitutional scholar. Based on his current performance, he’d be ill-advised to quit his day job.

The Congress does have legitimate oversight responsibility for the Department of Justice. It created the Department of Justice. It does not have constitutional oversight responsibility over the White House,


The power of oversight stems from the power of the purse. Because the Congress appropriates the money, it has a duty to inquire into how that money gets spent. Absent an impeachment inquiry, the Congress has no right to question the President about his own conduct, because it has no power to reduce his salary. Every other job in the Executive Office of the President exists only because, and only as long as, Congress passes an appropriation to pay for it. Tony Snow’s attempt to draw a distinction between the Justice Department and the White House in terms of being subject to Congressional oversight therefore falls flat. White House oversight is as much a Congressional prerogative as oversight of any other part of the federal government.

A couple of side+issues, while we’re on the topic of the White House’s silly objections to having its behavior scrutinized.

1. “Executive privilege,” if it means anything, means the right of the President to avoid having his aides questioned about the advice they give him. It can’t possibly be stretched to apply to conversations among those aides themselves. GWB has denied having been directly involved in the U.S. Attorney purge. So what, exactly, do they think is privileged?

2. Karl Rove has already spoken in public, denying that politics had a role in the purge. How can he claim a privilege against speaking about the same matters under oath before the Congress? Does he contend that his false statements at Republican fund-raisers don’t violate the privilege, but his true statements to Congress would?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com