Constitutional crisis looming?

For about the last dozen years or so, editorial writers and television analysts have always had one issue they could return to as a regular topic most readers and viewers could agree about:

Washington, D.C., is hopelessly gridlocked. Compromise is a dirty word, seeing the other person’s point of view is a weakness.

Now, though, the ante has been raised in our national political poker game. The current administration has decided to risk a constitutional crisis by questioning Congress’ duty and authority to conduct oversight of the executive branch of government.

As of this writing, the administration is refusing to allow past and present officials to testify before various committees charged with oversight responsibilities in the House of Representatives. It has faced requests, and subpoenas, on everything from unredacted versions of the Mueller report to questions it put on the 2020 census form.

The Treasury Department missed a deadline earlier in the week to turn over copies of six years of the president’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee oversees Treasury Department operations (and, therefore, the Internal Revenue Service) and has statutory authority to demand to see any returns it wishes.

Donald Trump has labeled the House’s requests as “presidential harassment.” He has even said he will not allow executive branch officials who were told to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before congressional committees. He apparently waived “executive privilege” then but is trying to reassert it now.

House Democrats say they are performing oversight functions Congress is supposed to do under our system of checks and balances.

The president has vowed to fight these requests in the courts. That means, of course, protracted battles that will probably take years to resolve. If that happens, it will make our past complaints of gridlock look like child’s play.

If the president prevails, it may also mean that the legislature is not a co-equal branch of government. And that could have lasting consequences for our democratic republic.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.