By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 14, 2006
The nation's governors, protesting what they call an unprecedented shift in authority from the states to the federal government, will urge Congress today to block legislation that would allow the president to take control of National Guard forces in the event of a natural disaster or a threat to homeland security.
In a sharply worded letter that will be transmitted to Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress this morning, the governors ask that a House-Senate conference committee remove a provision included in the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act giving the president such authority.
"This provision was drafted without consultation or input from governors and represents an unprecedented shift in authority from governors as commanders and chief of the Guard to the federal government," the governors state in the letter.
As of yesterday, 51 governors, including some from U.S. territories, had signed the letter, a sign of broad bipartisan support that underscores the depth of opposition among state executives to encroachments by Washington on their powers.
The governors discovered the provision two weeks ago, and the effort to have it removed from the defense bill began at last week's National Governors Association summer meeting in Charleston, S.C.
At the meeting, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), the outgoing NGA chairman, described the provision as one that "violates 200 years of American history." Governors see it as part of a broader effort by the federal government to diminish the sovereignty of the states.
"Any effort to take that authority away from governors at the very least confuses the chain of command and at the worst could severely hamper state efforts to respond to emergencies," David Quam, NGA director of federal relations, said yesterday.
The battle with Congress is the second time this year that governors have united to oppose action in Washington that they deemed detrimental to their control of the Guard. Last winter, the governors pressed President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over what they regarded as harmful proposed cuts and restructuring in the Guard.