What The President Can Do

Adapted from Chapter 27 of Why Government Doesn't Work, by Harry Browne.

In 1980 the American people elected by a landslide a President who promised to get government off our backs. He said government was the problem, not the solution. He promised to cut government spending drastically, reduce the awful burden of taxes, and balance the budget within three years.

When he left office eight years later, government spending was 69% greater, tax collections were 65% larger, and $1.9 trillion had been added to the federal debt your children are supposed to pay.

It's true he had to deal with a Democratic Congress, so he couldn't get whatever he wanted. But he wasn't helpless. Although Congress votes for the budget and the laws we must live by, the President can veto what Congress does. And Congress can overrule the veto only if two thirds of both houses vote to do so. Thus the President can stop a bad law or a big budget if just one third of one house of Congress will support him.

Since the government grew so much in spite of the President's promises, you'd think Congress must have overridden hundreds of his vetoes -- if not thousands of them. But in eight years, he vetoed only 78 of the thousands of bills sent to him. And only four of the 78 vetoes were on major budget bills.

Of the 78 vetoes, Congress overrode only eight. This means Congress enacted into law only eight bills the President didn't approve of. And only one of those was a budget bill -- the Supplemental Appropriations Act in August 1982. Only two other overrides significantly affected the power of government -- the Clean Water Act of 1987 and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988. (Congress overrode the President's veto of one large spending bill, the Highway Reauthorization Act in 1987, but the President had preferred a bill almost as large as the one that passed.)

Thus Congress didn't enlarge government over the President's determined opposition. They did only what he allowed.

Pens are cheap. A President can sign thousands of vetoes. Unless his opposition can muster a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, nothing can be forced on him.

The determining factor is whether the President has the will to reduce government. If he does, no one can stop him. There are many things he can do -- whether or not Congress agrees with him.


I am running for President of the United States. If elected, I will set to work immediately to make this a freer, safer, more prosperous country -- and I won't have to wait for the help of Congress.

For example, the President by himself can do a great deal to reduce crime in America. By releasing the non-violent federal prisoners, we can increase the prison space available for child molesters, rapists, murderers, muggers, and other violent criminals. This is something the President can do about crime without raising your taxes, taking your guns, or stealing your civil liberties.

So on my first day in office, by Executive Order, I will personally:

Federal law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and judges will get the message immediately: We are interested only in getting the violent criminals off the streets. Don't waste your time and the taxpayers' money prosecuting people who haven't intruded on anyone's person or property. We need the prison space to house the people who are terrorizing our citizens.

Since there are no federal violent crimes listed in the Constitution (except for piracy), there will be a great deal of prison space available after the pardons. So we can help reduce the federal debt by selling unneeded federal prisons to state governments that do need them.

There are other steps I can take the first day in office:


I will submit a budget for fiscal year 1998 (the first budget during the presidential term), as described in chapter 24 of this book. I will veto any 1998 appropriations that exceed a total of $800 billion -- not counting the money appropriated to buy annuities for former Social Security dependents.

Congress may pass a larger budget and expect me to sign it. I won't.

Will Congress override my veto?

I don't know. But we shouldn't assume that it will. If Bill Clinton were to wake up tomorrow morning as a born-again libertarian, and vow to cut the federal government by two thirds, Congress probably would laugh at him and go on its merry way.

But if I were elected on my platform to cut government dramatically, with my intentions set forth clearly in this book, no politician or journalist could hide from what my election meant. No one could claim the American people elected me to make government user-friendly -- or to make stirring speeches at the United Nations. It would be obvious that the people had voted for much smaller government. So Congressmen would be taking an enormous political risk by defying such a President.

And if Congress couldn't override my veto, but wouldn't agree to my budget, we would reach an impasse -- threatening a closure of most government agencies in October 1997. While this possibility might pressure some other President, it would work in our favor.

Even if Congress did defy me and the electorate, at least the battle finally would be joined. At last there would be two sides arguing in Washington -- one to increase government and one to cut it sharply -- instead of the current trivial debate between Democrats who want government to grow by 5% a year and Republicans who want it to grow by 3%.

Short Bills

One sign of a government run amok is that many Congressional bills are hundreds and hundreds of pages long -- and they often include dozens and dozens of provisions that are irrelevant to the bills' topics.

Congressmen rarely read the bills they vote for, and Presidents almost never read them before signing them. Everyone relies on aides and "experts" to assess the bills -- and even the latter can't read a bill that is rushed through to a vote or altered at the last minute.

In too many cases, Congressmen and Presidents don't even care what's in a bill. They approve it not because of its content, but because of its image -- "tough on crime," racially correct, welfare reform, "budget-cutting," environmentally pure, or whatever. This is how quotas, asset-forfeiture, draconian regulations, and so many other pernicious practices sneak into the law -- as "minor" matters hidden in a skyscraper of words.

But the regulators read all these bills thoroughly and enforce every provision. And then some Congressmen are shocked to learn that their constituents are being harassed.

I will not sign any bill I haven't read. I will consult with advisors, but I will always make the final decision myself, based on what a bill actually says. If a bill is too long for me to study during the ten days the Constitution gives the President to make a decision, I will veto it automatically.

If a bill is ambiguous or too complicated to understand, I will veto it -- even if I think it might be aimed in the right direction.

If these standards seem too rigid for this modern age, it is not because the standards are wrong, but because government has become too big and complicated. Restore government to a manageable size and bills will be short, government will be less complicated, and Congress can do all its work in a few months each year.

Keep Government in Check

If a bill would increase the size and power of the federal government in any way, I will veto it.

If a bill asks the federal government to do something for which there is no Constitutional authority, I will veto it. If the Constitution is inadequate for today's America, the Constitution should be amended -- not violated.

Abiding by the Constitution

I will abide by the Constitution -- even parts I might not agree with. I will not carry out any function for which there is no Constitutional authority.

I will take the Bill of Rights seriously. I will refuse to enforce any law that violates it.

Congress or someone else may sue to force me to carry out a policy for which there is no warrant in the Constitution. But that won't deter me. If a President is defending the Constitution, there is no reason to back down.

Over and over I will remind my opponents that the Constitution serves no useful purpose if it can be bent to whatever seems convenient at the moment. If there is no fixed charter that limits the government to specific functions, we will have only so much freedom as the government wishes to allow. It is time to stop paying lip service to the Constitution on national holidays, and instead start taking it seriously 365 days a year.

Over and over I will remind Congress and the American people, "No one is stopping you from voluntarily establishing any program you want, building it with your own wisdom and work and money, and persuading others to join or support you. Charities and churches and service clubs do this every day. But I will not let you use the federal government to force others to support and pay for your project."

My opponents may take some issue all the way to the Supreme Court. What happens then?

The Supreme Court also can read the election returns. Some of today's justices seem to have a higher regard for the Constitution than their recent predecessors. My election and my actions may encourage them to stand up finally for the absolute supremacy of the Constitution.

And if the Supreme Court rules against me, I will remind them that I am sworn to uphold what the Constitution says -- not what they would like it to say. And I will not back down.

The President Can Change Things

Yes, there is a great deal the President can do -- with or without the support of Congress.

It requires a President who believes without question in individual liberty and self-responsibility -- who will shrink government to only the functions specified in the Constitution -- who really knows that government doesn't work and that we must make it as small and inexpensive and as irrelevant to our lives as possible.

It requires a President who has the will and the determination to get government out of our lives no matter what his opponents say, no matter what the press writes, no matter what it takes.


Every four years, Republicans dress up as Libertarians to run for President. They talk about cutting taxes and holding government in check. But as soon as one is elected, he puts his Republican business-as-usual suit back on and makes his contribution to bigger government.

In other words, Republicans campaign like Libertarians and govern like Democrats.

Wouldn't it be nice to elect a real Libertarian for a change -- one who would run as a Libertarian and govern as one?

Libertarian Candidate

I am that Libertarian.

My philosophy has been unchanged for over 35 years; it isn't going to change now. I have one reason to run for President: to scale the government down to size, so I can go back home and live the last few decades of my life in peace and freedom.

It should be obvious that I hold politicians in very low esteem. I do not want to become one of them.

I have joined the Libertarian Party because it is the only political party in America that consistently and intensely calls for immediate and huge cuts in the size and power of government.

Libertarians don't propose unreliable plans to maybe change things somehow in some way in some uncertain time in the future. We want:

As a Libertarian, I don't have to compromise to make deals and gain support within the party. I don't have to promise anyone a position in my administration. I don't have to accommodate the contrary views of any wing of the party.

Libertarians are individualists, so they don't agree on everything. There are differences over how far government should be cut, how a campaign should be run, which political stands are philosophically "pure." But, unlike other parties, all Libertarians want much less government than we have now. They all want to move in that direction -- and no area of government is an exception.

The Libertarian Party's nominating convention will be held July 4-5, 1996, in Washington, D.C. I expect to win the nomination. Although there are other Libertarians running, none is devoting the time, energy, and attention that I am. My campaign is attracting personal and financial support from within and without the Party.

I decided to seek the Presidency on August 14, 1994. The rest of 1994 was devoted to planning and organizing the campaign. During the first nine months of 1995 I concentrated mostly -- but not completely -- on winning the support of Libertarians within the party.

The groundwork has been laid. And my attention is now focused on the general campaign. Beginning in October 1995, I will be speaking before organizations of all kinds, appearing on radio and TV shows, and campaigning all over America. This book will acquaint many Americans with the program we offer.

So Far

I have already campaigned in 32 states. Without our seeking it, the campaign has already been publicized by a number of newspapers and magazines.

By the spring of 1996, I should be showing up in opinion polls.

Although I don't expect to raise as much money as the older parties will have, I'm determined to raise enough to carry our message to the American people -- to let every American know there's a candidate who has the desire and the will to make America a free country again.

Other Candidates

There may be other independent or "third party" candidates in the race -- people such as Ross Perot, Colin Powell, Bill Bradley, Jesse Jackson, or maybe someone who wasn't considered a potential candidate in late 1995. The more of these people who decide to run, the better for us.

All of them -- along with President Clinton, Senator Dole, Senator Gramm, Steve Forbes, and the other Republican candidates -- claim they can make government work. I alone of the major candidates recognize that government doesn't work, and that the only solution is to get rid of as much of it as we can.

If the polls showing overwhelming support for much smaller government are correct, we can make this election a referendum on the question: Do we reduce government dramatically or do we continue as we are now? If the issue is framed that way, all the other candidates will be on one side of the fence, while I stand alone on the side of much smaller government.

The differences among the other candidates are trivial. If Bill Clinton, Robert Dole, Phil Gramm, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, or Colin Powell wins the election, government will be even larger in four years than it is today.

Despite the attempts to pose as a friend of individual liberty, none of those candidates will be able to carry the pretense all the way to Election Day, 1996. Each of them will have to defend too many Senate votes or proposals for more government.

All those candidates will split the vote of those who still have faith that government can work. I will be the candidate of those who want to restore American freedom.

Running to Win

Many people have encouraged my candidacy by saying they hope I will influence the candidates of the two old parties -- that I will pressure them to be more libertarian.

That isn't my goal. What politicians say in order to get elected is of no value to us. From "get government off our backs" to "read my lips" to the "New Democrat," a politician's words are meaningless.

We have to understand that politicians - - Republicans or Democrats -- like government the way it is. They will say whatever they have to in order to win an election. But their purposes are quite different from yours or mine.

So I have no hope of changing them.

I am running this campaign to win the Presidency. I know it is a very long shot, but not nearly as long as it might seem at first glance. The people are on our side. To win we have to show the voters two things:

1. There is a candidate with a realistic, credible plan to reduce government dramatically.

2. Voting for me would not be wasting a vote.

The first task will simply require hard work, money, and help from many people -- to get our message to everyone in America.


The second task will require showing what the stakes are.

Too many people are willing to vote for a bad Republican in order to keep Bill Clinton from being reelected. I can understand their attitude, but electing the "lesser of two evils" guarantees that there will be no substantial improvement.

Every Republican candidate has already made it clear he doesn't plan to cut government significantly. So what difference does it make whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected? Would America be significantly freer if George Bush had been reelected in 1992?

We finally have a chance to reverse the awful trend of bigger government -- to turn it around once and for all. Should we throw away that chance by handing the task to a politician who, no matter what he says now, has never demonstrated a commitment to reducing government?

After four years of his administration, should we celebrate that the federal government grew by only $300 billion, instead of $400 billion? Should we feel relieved then that only $600 billion, instead of $700 billion, was added to the federal debt our children must carry?

Shouldn't we be working to elect someone who is determined to reduce government dramatically? Shouldn't we elect the person who wants to get rid of the federal debt entirely? To give our children a fresh start? To relieve them of the obligation to pay for the waste and political mistakes of earlier generations of politicians?

Shouldn't we seize this opportunity to get the federal government out of regulation, out of crime control, out of housing, transportation, education, welfare, and all its other boondoggles? Or do you believe the opportunity will still be there whenever we happen to get around to acting on it?

Before long, the federal debt -- as well as the government's many uncounted liabilities -- will be far too large to liquidate without widespread misery caused by millions of broken promises. Then it won't be possible for a Libertarian to walk into the White House and turn the situation around in four years. We no longer will be able to offer hope to those who have been hurt by federal programs, taxes, and regulation.

Yes, it does make a difference who is elected -- an enormous difference.

If a Libertarian is elected, the anti- government revolution will be won.

If Bill Clinton is reelected, at least the revolution will continue, because no one will misread the problem.

But if a Republican is elected, the revolution will go to sleep -- and it may not reawaken until it's too late to succeed.


I could certainly use your support. There's much you can do to help restore America to the free country it once was.

Obviously, your vote is important. But so is your active support. There are many ways you can provide it.

You can mention my candidacy in letters to the editor, and on call-in radio and TV shows. Whenever the discussion turns to what the Republican Congress is doing, point out that there's a presidential candidate who has a specific program for real cuts in government, not just to slow its growth.

You can display bumper stickers, yard signs, lapel buttons, envelope stickers, and other advertisements. We will have a 30-minute videocassette available by which you can introduce friends to the message of the campaign.

You can contribute money. What you donate will make it possible for us to reach every American with our message of hope.

If you would like to help, contact:

The Browne for President Committee
4094 Majestic Lane, Suite 240
Fairfax, Virginia 22033
Telephone: (800) 314-8611
World Wide Web site: http://www.HarryBrowne96.org

If nothing else, send us your name, so we can inform you of the campaign's progress.


I am 62 years old. I have had a happy, successful life. I have no need to embark upon a new career. And even if I wanted to try something new, politics is the last vocation I would turn to.

Over the past four decades I have watched America become less and less free. I have seen government at all levels take over more and more of our lives. I've seen more and more people drawn into dependency upon government and lose the confidence to stand on their own two feet.

I've also been heartened by a marvelous educational campaign -- as libertarian think tanks, magazines, books, speakers, clubs, and other organs, as well as the Libertarian Party, have made more people aware that freedom works and government doesn't. And even more people have been added to the ranks as they've seen firsthand that government doesn't work.

But despite the belief of three out of four Americans that "government is much too large" -- and despite the election- year cheering for less government -- government continues to get larger. Even if the politicians and journalists are the only Americans left who still believe in government, that's enough to keep government growing.

I have to conclude that, no matter how unpopular government is today, it will continue growing for the rest of my life if we don't change things quickly. It doesn't matter whether Republicans or Democrats control Congress or the White House, government will continue to become more oppressive -- even as politicians congratulate themselves on "dismantling the welfare state" or on their "Republican revolution."

The educational battle has been won. The people have chosen freedom over government. But the political battle continues to be lost.

Only when someone goes to Washington who is determined to clean the stables, who values freedom above political power, who has the will to stand fast against every politician, only then will the trend turn around -- and only then will the political battle be won. But it's obvious that there is no such person in two-party politics we can look to.

In 1992 my wife suggested that I run for President. At first I thought the idea was absurd. But we talked about it for two years, and in August 1994 I decided I should run.

I have only one reason for running, a selfish motivation: I want to live in peace and freedom for my remaining 20-40 years.

I don't want to spend those years watching the greatest country in history sink into bankruptcy, into a third-rate socialist state.

And I am determined to do everything in my power to see that it doesn't happen.

I hope you will help me.

Adapted from Why Government Doesn't Work by Harry Browne (St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 250 pages, $19.95), available through any bookstore.