Tomorrow, the House will consider HR 4809, legislation reauthorizing the Defense Production Act. The Defense Production Act is a cold-war era law that gives the President dictatorial control over the economy in times of war or “national emergencies.” Specifically, the Act:
“…authorizes the President to require businesses to sign contracts or fulfill orders deemed necessary for national defense. The second authorizes the President to establish mechanisms (such as regulations, orders or agencies) to allocate materials, services and facilities to promote national defense. The third section authorizes the President to control the civilian economy so that scarce and/or critical materials necessary to the national defense effort are available for defense needs.
The Act also authorizes the President to requisition property, force industry to expand production and the supply of basic resources, impose wage and price controls, settle labor disputes, control consumer and real estate credit, establish contractual priorities, and allocate raw materials towards national defense.
Considering the controversy over President Obama’s abuse of executive authority, one would think that renewal of this program might be somewhat controversial, yet it is being considered on the suspension calendar, which means it will only be debated for forty minutes and members will be given no opportunity to amendment it. However, the bill will require a two-thirds vote.
Ron Paul opposed the National Defense Production Act when he was in Congress. Here are Dr. Paul’s official dissenting views on legislation reauthorizing the National Defense Production Act in 2007:
DISSENTING VIEWSReprinted with author's permission from Campaign for Liberty.
No one questions the need for the Federal Government to obtain the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional role of providing for the common defense. However, the Federal government must fulfill this duty in a manner that does not conflict in any way with the Constitution or endanger republican government. The Defense Production Reauthorization Act (DPA), which gives almost unchecked power to the executive to interfere in the economy in the name of `national security,’ fails both of these standards. In fact, when I inquired at the sole hearing held on this bill as to which section of the Constitution authorized such sweeping grants of power to the Executive, I was greeted by silence from the `expert’ witnesses!
Under this bill, the President is given authority to void private contracts in order to ensure that federal defense priorities, as determined by the executive, are met. The only limitation on the President’s judgment is a requirement that he submit a series of `findings’ to Congress. The Executive also has what appears to be unchecked authority to use financial incentives such as loan guarantees, direct loans, and purchase guarantees to ensure production of items he determines are in the national interest.
Congress appears to have no ability to perform any real oversight of a Presidential action under the DPA. In fact, my office has been informed by the Congressional Research Service that past Presidents may have invoked the DPA without even submitting the required findings to Congress!
The wide grant of unchecked power to the Executive runs counter to the intent of the drafters of the Constitution. The Founders carefully limited the executive power because they recognized that an executive with unfettered power was a threat to liberty.
In recent years we have seen administrations of both parties undermine the Constitutional separation of powers via enhanced reliance on executive orders and unilateral decision-making. The Defense Production Reauthorization Act provides Congressional blessing to this usurpation of power, and not just in areas clearly related to national defense. For example, the DPA has been used to justify Federal interference in the energy market. It is an open question what other exercise of federal power could be justified as related to defense. For example, federal education programs have been justified on the grounds that an educated population is vital to national defense, so perhaps a future president will use DPA to impose a national curriculum! At the least, it has been confirmed that the DPA will be invoked to reduce Congress’ role in overseeing the use of taxpayer dollars in the reconstruction of Iraq.
I am also concerned that this bill violates the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause. In particular, DPA allows the government to seize private property by interfering with the performance of private contracts in order to give a greater priority to military production. This action reduces the value of the affected parties’ proprietary interests, and thus is a taking, requiring the government to provide just compensation to the affected party. The Fifth Amendment intends to assure that the government does not unfairly burden one group of citizens in carrying out its constitutional functions. By not providing for just compensation, DPA allows the executive to unfairly burden one group of citizens for costs that the Constitution requires be shared among the entire population.
In conclusion, the Defense Production Act gives the executive unchecked power to meddle in the economy, flying the face of the original constitutional structure and endangering the very liberty it claims to protect. Therefore, I must oppose this bill.