I don’t claim to be some expert on the U.S. Constitution.
I mean, I am no constitutional law professor like our current commander in chief, President Barack Obama.
So I wonder, if some dumb Hoosier like me is concerned about our president’s apparent proclivity to rule by imperial fiat, why isn’t he?
It’s not so much the executive order thing. I get what an executive order is. Essentially, it’s a way for presidents to help officers and agencies of the executive branch manage operations. Operations within the federal government, that is.
There is really nothing wrong with that. All presidents use executive orders. Some of them used quite a few more than President Obama:
Obama, so far – 167
George W. Bush – 291
Bill Clinton – 364
George Bush – 166 (4 yrs.)
Ronald Reagan – 381.
That’s good information to have, but in my view, it’s virtually irrelevant. To me, it’s not so much how many executive orders a president issued, it’s the content of those orders.
And a cursory glance at President Obama’s executive orders doesn’t reveal anything all that problematic to me. Mainly, his orders were not unlike those of the presidents before him. Lots of federal government minutia.
But the thing that does trouble me is the fact that he seems, somehow – and I’m not really sure exactly how – to be able to circumvent federal law with the wave of some sort of magic executive wand.
Take the Affordable Care Act.
More than once he has simply changed major components of the law without the input of the legislative branch.
The ACA, a law duly passed by Congress, said business “must” provide health care or face fines by Jan. 1, 2014.
But the president has now twice changed that deadline, once last year for big business and once just last week for businesses with between 50 and 100 employees.
Immigration? We’ll just ignore major portions of that duly enacted law.
How can he do that?
He should have to go back to Congress to change the law.
This behavior seems more akin to “signing statements,” than executive orders.
W issued quite a few signing statements and it used to enrage me. I wrote columns critical of him for that.
When the president issues a signing statement, he’s essentially saying, “Yes, I will sign this bill into law, but:
“The law is constitutionally defective and my executive agencies can limit its implementation.”
“I will define vague terms within the law as I see fit to guide executive agencies to implement it as written.”
Or, in laymans’s terms, “Yeah, I’ll sign this thing but my executive branch ain’t bound by it.”
To me, that’s totally bogus.
And I’m not the only one who feels that way. The American Bar Association assigned a task force to look into the use of signing statements. The task force concluded using signing statements to modify duly enacted laws “serves to undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”
And, apparently, Barack Obama, the ABA and I saw eye-to-eye on this issue, at least for a while, anyway.
Here’s what then-candidate Obama said about signing statements when W was president:
“Congress’ job is to pass legislation. The president can veto it or he can sign it. But what George Bush has been trying to do as part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency. … He’s been saying, well I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying ‘I don’t agree with this part or I don’t agree with that part, I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way.’ That’s not part of his power, but this is part of the whole theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he goes along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for 10 years. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.”
Because Obama has been a huge proponent of signing statements during his presidency, constitutional scholar that he is.
And at least with signing statements – heinous and unconstitutional as they are – we’re dealing with newly enacted legislation that’s coming across President Obama’s desk.
But Obama is going back and rearranging legislation that already has been signed into law – some by him.
Like his own “signature legislative achievement.”
And the thing I find most troubling about all of this is the deafening silence from Congress. Why isn’t somebody standing up and putting a stop to this?
Why doesn’t anybody care? Why doesn’t somebody file a lawsuit and run it up to the U.S. Supreme Court?
If Congress isn’t careful and continues to tilt the balance of power to the executive branch, it will render itself irrelevant.
I don’t care what party has control of the executive branch, this is just no good.