WASHINGTON — For six years, Vice President Dick Cheney had his way with a compliant Republican-led Congress while dismissing Democrats as nuisances.
Perhaps the most famous example of the Cheney approach came when a Democratic senator tried to make small talk after earlier criticizing the veep. Replied Cheney on the Senate floor: ``Go f--- yourself.''
That was then. Now the Democrats run Congress, and Cheney faces a confrontation this week with a man who's his match in profanity and perhaps his superior at using the machinery of government to back it up.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, on Wednesday will propose cutting all appropriations for Cheney's office from the bill that's needed to finance the executive branch.
It's a response to Cheney's assertion that he isn't bound by a presidential order on secrecy because he isn't really part of the executive branch. Cheney says the Constitution makes him unique in government: one foot in the executive branch as next in line to the presidency and the other foot in the legislative branch as presiding officer of the Senate.
The White House says the constitutional argument from Cheney is interesting, but moot. The president's order requires executive agencies to report data about their use of classified documents to the National Archives. Spokeswoman Dana Perino says Bush never meant to include Cheney in the order covering other executive department agencies and that the president is the "sole enforcer'' of his own orders.
But Emanuel is using the argument to ridicule and bludgeon Cheney.
First, Emanuel released a chart showing four branches of government: the executive, the legislative, the judicial and the Cheney.
Then he went to work picking apart Cheney's argument.
``If the vice president truly believes he is not a part of the executive branch, he should return the salary the American taxpayers have been paying him since January 2001, and move out of the home for which they are footing the bill,'' Emanuel said.
Emanuel's proposed amendment would withhold the $4.4 million for Cheney's office until the vice president admits he's in the executive branch or the Government Accountability Office determines which branch Cheney serves in.
The goal is not to cut off the money, but to force a recognition that Cheney is in the executive branch and subject to the order on secrecy.
``The vice president has a choice to make,'' Emanuel said. ``If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive-branch funding, he cannot ignore executive branch rules.''
A veteran of bare-knuckled politics from hometown Chicago to the Clinton White House, Emanuel is better known than Cheney for anger laced with profanity. He is, after all, a man who once mailed a dead fish to a pollster, a sinister message reminiscent of the "Godfather" mafia saga.
Emanuel's barbed-wire personality is so familiar in Washington that
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney joked this year that ``he's vice-presidential material."
It's still unclear which side will win this clash. What is clear, though, is that this time Cheney ran up against someone who can give as good as he gets.