By: Reginald Augustus
Move out of the way Congress, I will take it from here! Is this what we can infer from President Barack Obama’s latest State of the Union address? Recently, the President declared that he plans on bypassing the gridlocked Hill in order to accomplish things on his own. How far he plans on stretching his executive powers is yet to be seen. Some argue that he has overreached beyond the constitutional constraints of his office, while others argue that he has not gone far enough.
A close examination of the actions undertaken by the President’s administration uncovers a use of executive power that is broad, bold, and ambitious. The effects of the policies advanced by the administration are considered to be “unabashedly liberal” and affect everyday life for millions of American citizens. Some of the policy actions include moving industry from coal toward green alternatives, possible shutdown of for-profit colleges that do not meet certain criteria, tougher gun control laws, and other restrictions on food servings. To date, some 300 plus economically significant regulations have been enacted by the President’s team. This number is much larger than the number of regulations enacted under Clinton, George W. Bush, or Reagan in similar time periods. Many of the implemented rules have been driven by the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank banking reform.
Several agency officials, and others on the outside who closely monitor the work, say that the administration is very hands-on with initiatives that have a big political or economic effect. Opponents of the use of executive power claim that the President’s administration is too involved in the details. Marion Nestle, who is a consumer advocate and a professor at New York University, said “Everyone I talk to at the federal agencies says, ‘We can’t budge.’ … The White House is micromanaging everything.” For example, internal documents previously posted online show how the Office of Management and Budget made many changes, including some that watered down provisions to an FDA food safety regulation that the industry opposed.
Additionally, Republicans who think that the President has gone too far have called his maneuvers “abusive and arrogant.” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said that “[t]his president’s use of executive power in areas where he has failed to build a necessary consensus for legislative action has been unprecedented. This disregard for the rule of law and lack of transparency sets a dangerous precedent.” Republicans who have been angered by this process have attempted to use every ounce of authority they can gather to either delay or halt the President’s programs. Dozens of hearings as well as speeches have been initiated by Republicans to go over the administration’s regulatory actions. However, there is not much they can do to prevent them. Lawsuits and legislative amendments have also been filed by Republicans in an attempt to “rein in” the President’s executive powers. Big business and industry have also been opposed to some of the administration’s tactics. They have sued to overturn regulations, sought to delay the rule-making process, and flooded agency offices with their comments.
Some House Republicans are trying to bring legal action against the President, claiming that he has overstepped his executive order authority. Rep. Tom Rice has sponsored a resolution called STOP (Stop This Overreaching Presidency). Rice stated that “He’s got a pen and a telephone, it’s true, but we’ve got the Constitution. The prosperity of this country arose from those freedoms and they must be protected.” Rep. Steve Scalise said that overreach by the executive branch can set a precedent for future presidents.
The President has clearly stated that with Congress in a stalemate, he does not have much choice but to forge ahead on his own. The President said that, “[i]n no way are my expectations diminished or my ambitions diminished. But what is obviously true is we’ve got a divided government right now.” Now in his second term, it seems clear to analysts on both sides of the aisle that the administration is gearing up to enact more mandates in line with the President’s vision of a healthier and greener America.
President Obama has pushed back on some of the complaints that have come from business leaders who claim he has overstepped and over-regulated. The administration pointed out that the President has issued less executive orders than previous presidents. The administration has also stated that they do not have to make a choice between the public safety and health of Americans, and the creation of jobs and growth in the economy. Proponents such as Gynnie Robnett of the Center for Effective Government agreed, stating “[w]e have a lengthy to-do list of public health and safety priorities.”
The industry has not been against all of the President’s mandates either. In certain cases, industry has worked in collaboration with the administration to draw up the laws. Sean McBride, the executive vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said that the administration “is willing to gather the facts and listen to disparate views to arrive at responsible solutions that benefit the common good.”
Still, some liberals would like to see the President be more forceful. Celia Wexler, a senior staff member at the Union of Concerned Scientists said “[t]he president should not be in a position where he in any way apologizes or buys into the business community’s drumbeat that regulations are obstacles. We aren’t regulating for the fun of it.”
It seems clear that the use of executive power is a contentious issue. Many, especially on the right side of the aisle, see it as an abuse of power. Many on the left side of the aisle see it as a necessary instrument that must be used, even to a greater extent, for the best interests of this country. The Supreme Court of this land will likely decide if some of the President’s mandates have overreached. I believe the President has made attempts at times to work with Congress and at other times decided to forge ahead on his own. Now in his second term, there is no fear of not being re-elected. He is not the first President to push his agenda and vision for the nation harder after re-election. With Congress unable to get out of its own way, it has become necessary for the President to use other means in order to get his agenda moving forward. However, in doing so, the President must also be careful not to abuse the executive power privilege and circumvent the democratic legislative process that this country was founded on.