In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama repeatedly asked Congress to pass legislation, followed by a promise (or a threat) that if the legislature chose not to legislate – the executive would.
On climate change, the President promised, “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
During the SOTU and shorty after, the President and his team promised more action on guns, housing and the creation of new homosexual rights – but only if the people’s representatives choose not to act. The president’s threats are not idle. He has already taken executive action on “cyber security”, immigration and student loans when Congress chose to go in a direction different from his own.
However, this new rhetoric bothered me for a few reasons. First, the President shouldn’t be threatening Congress that he will act if they don’t. He should be leading Congress to do the right thing. This president has shown an ability to pressure Congress to bend to his will when necessary. But when the executive branch, who is specifically and expressly not supposed to be reminiscent of the powers of a King, takes unilateral action, usurping power that is reserved for the people’s representatives – we should all be concerned.
All presidents have used executive action – but not like this. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s huge executive power grab, but at least he increased the power of the Presidency with the consent of the Congress. This President merely does what he wants in spite of the Congress.
This is more than a simple case of a President filling in the holes on issues Congress hasn’t gotten around to addressing. When Congress doesn’t pass legislation, it is inherently making the decision NOT to act, in effect acting on an issue to retain the status quo.
No President should dare exceed his executive order authority. This power is limited to exercising discretion WITHIN the executive branch. This President has redefined the clear parameters of Congressional legislation by effectuating his own line item veto, choosing which parts of legislation to enforce and which parts to ignore.
Whether it is refusing to enforce immigration laws-or-DOMA, or power grabs on gun rights-and-internet privacy – this President has exceeded the mere exercise of his discretion on executive matters and has released orders resembling legislation. I would hope that at some point, mainstream Republicans stand up to him to state that enough is enough.