This much is clear: Congress has adjusted its role in recent years so that Congress does its best job at the front end and the back end, said Gary Schmitt, co-director of the American Enterprise Institutes Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies.
The usual pattern is that as a crisis unfolds, lawmakers often raise serious questions. If something goes awry, they try to put curbs on presidential action, which usually take a long time to approve let alone implement.
When President George W. Bush was considering invading Iraq in 2002, Democrats controlling the Senate held hearings on war and its aftermath.
But when the Bush administration argued that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction a claim later proven false Congress gave Bush broad bipartisan authority to act against Iraq and any others threatening the United States. On the back end, though, Congress got assertive. As popular support dwindled, and the war turned ugly, lawmakers raised new questions and debated withdrawal deadlines.
Just as the war demonstrated Congress limits, so has the NSA controversy. Congress has offered little apparent resistance, though it did build some safeguards into the system.
A secret court must approve NSA data collection. Congressional intelligence committees routinely scrutinize the effort, as evidenced by the lack of surprise members expressed when news of the programs surfaced.
So, says Schmitt, dont think about Congress role anymore in terms of what an equal branch of government might do. Think of the reality.
Congress wrote the law, amended it and debated it, Schmitt said. They wanted an executive who could act decisively and in secret. Its the kind of inevitable result of us being a world power.