This column was written by John Nichols.
Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel has come up with the right response to Dick Cheney's attempt to suggest that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the executive branch.
The House Democratic Caucus chairman wants to take the Cheney at his word. Cheney says his office is "not an entity within the executive branch," so Emanuel wants to take away the tens of millions of dollars that are allocated to the White House to maintain it.
The root of the controversy is in a fight that the vice president has picked with the National Archives, which is charged with keeping tabs on how the offices of the president, the vice president and their appointees handle classified documents.
Under federal legislation enacted in 1995, members of the executive branch must work with the Archives to preserve classified documents. The law was backed up, at least in part, by an executive order issued four years ago by President Bush. But Cheney and his staff have refused for five years to file reports that are required as part of the oversight process. Why? Because the vice president — that's the vice president — claims he is not exactly a member of the executive branch.
So what is Cheney? Because the vice president serves in the frequently ceremonial position of president of the Senate, Cheney's office now claims that he is a member of the legislative branch — and thus unburdened by any responsibility to cooperate with the Archives.
Forget the fact that the Constitution clearly defines the vice presidency as an executive position.
Forget the fact that, since then-Congressman Cheney wrote the Iran-Contra investigation minority report defending the "right" of the Reagan administration to set its own foreign policy, he has been a consistent and aggressive advocate for increasing the authority of the executive branch.
Forget the fact that, since the Supreme Court handed power to the Buch-Cheney ticket in December 2OOO, Cheney has fashioned himself as the most powerful vice president in history.
Forget the fact that when Cheney has steadfastly refused to share classified information with the U.S. House and Senate.
Forget the fact that when Cheney actually makes his way to Capitol Hill it is famously to spew obscenities at Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy.
O.K., says Emanuel.
If Cheney's a member of the legislative branch, the Democratic Caucus chair suggests, the vice president won't need all the money that currently goes to pay for his executive office, extensive staff and that secure undisclosed location that is so often his haunt. So Emanuel plans this week to offer an amendment to a spending bill that would defund the Office of the Vice President.
Of course, there would still be funding for the Office of the Senate President. But, let's be frank, the rare tie-breaking duties and ceremonial administrative functions associated with that position won't require more than a smidgen of the money that now goes to the vice president's epic executive-branch operations.
"This amendment will ensure that the vice president's funding is consistent with his legal arguments," say Emanuel, a former aide to President Clinton who, like Cheney, has served in both the legislative and executive branches.
Come to think of it, no matter what branch of the government he happens to occupy, doesn't it make sense to defund Cheney? At this point in the Bush-Cheney interregnum, any move that disempowers Dick Cheney can only benefit the Republic.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation