Vice President Resorts to Brass Knuckle Tactics

By Gus Tyler

Published March 21, 2003, issue of March 21, 2003.
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Many moons ago, Vice President Dick Cheney held a meeting with his Energy Task Force to consider national policy in this vital area. Consumer and environmental groups complained that they had something to contribute to the discussion but had not been invited. The scuttlebutt was that energy corporations, like Enron, were present at the secret gathering.

Needless to say, this became a hot political issue in Congress, where the Democrats began to press hard to find out exactly with whom Cheney consulted in pursuing his policy. The overtones were sinister: A president who ran an oil company and a vice president who ran an oil company met with others to decide public policy; were these others also people who had run oil — or energy-related — companies?

The little joke going round said that we have nothing to worry about because the top posts were filled by people with different interests. Bush and Cheney came from different oil companies. But, to members of Congress, especially Democrats, the question of who met with Cheney to plan energy policy was no laughing matter. They wanted to know with whom he met. And their request was followed up by the General Accounting Office, a nonpartisan — or, better, bipartisan — arm of Congress charged with responsibility to get the facts the legislative branch of government needs to discharge its responsibilities.

The GAO asked Cheney with whom he had met. He advised the GAO that it was none of its business. Determined to discharge its responsibilities, the GAO decided to sue Cheney to get the information. The act made history: For the first time in the 80-year-old lifespan of the GAO, it sued another government entity. But, abruptly, the suit was withdrawn. And the why and the how are scary omens of how party and partisan power can be used to weaken and obliterate the revered doctrine of the separation of powers on which our Constitution is based. Here’s what happened according to The Hill, a Washington-based publication that specializes on the “inside dope” at the Capitol:

Sources familiar with high-level discussions at the GAO said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, met with GAO Comptroller General David Walker earlier this year and “unambiguously” pressured him to drop the suit or face cuts in his $44 million budget.

All of which raises two crucial questions. First, if the same party controls the White House and the Congress, how can the legislative branch be a separate, independent and counterbalancing power if the party in the White House uses its clout in the legislature to cut off funds if the arm of the legislature seeks to get vital information?

The only recourse for a determined GAO would be to bring the matter before the Supreme Court. But, as matters presently stand, the high court that put the president in office is unlikely to override the desire of the White House to conduct its affairs without a GAO snooping.

The second big question is even more bothersome: Just what is Cheney and the White House hiding that they go to such brazen brass-knuckled ends to conceal the names of those with whom they met?

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