The New York Times yesterday featured an article entitled “Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals.” It discusses at some length President Obama’s announced intention to employ executive orders to bypass his obstructionist Republican opponents in Congress.
While there is ample precedent for doing so, it dances at the edge of constitutionality. Ours is supposed to be a system of checks and balances, a three-part government — judicial, legislative, and executive — where each body has a distinct role to play and is checked by the other two. We learn at an early age that Congress, not the White House, is our legislative branch and that it’s the president’s job to either sign into law or veto bills that originate in Congress; it is not his job to enact laws independently. Yet essentially that is the function of executive orders. And regardless of the president’s political affiliation or the frustrating obstructionist tactics of his opponents in Congress, lawmaking remains, or should remain, the purview of Congress.
George Bush signed more than 250 executive orders during his eight years in office, so there is ample recent precedent, and to date President Obama has signed some 120 executive orders. That said, it is difficult to take either side seriously when it complains about a president using or abusing his power with executive orders.
Nevertheless, it is probably not in Obama’s best interest to declare publicly his intent to use executive orders as a way around a gridlocked Congress. Americans, after all, are taught early about the separation of powers in their government, and executive orders, while they may be legal, strike many as presidential overreach.
Nor is it helpful when William G. Howell, author and political science professor at the University of Chicago, attempts to defend the president by saying, “Even someone who has studied the Constitution and holds it in high regard — he, too, is going to exercise these unilateral powers because his long-term legacy and his standing in the polls crucially depend upon action.”
That is precisely the problem in Washington today — politicians acting with an eye to their legacies and their standing in the polls. Whether it’s the president himself or the lowliest freshman in Congress, our elected representatives must stop thinking of themselves and start doing what’s best for the country. That’s their job; that’s why they were elected. If they can’t or won’t do the job, they can and will be replaced. American is fed up with self-centered politicians who think only of their own political fortunes.