Obama To Go It Alone

January 31, 2014

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State of the Union Challenges the Power of Congress

A familiar childhood taunt delivered to those who assert power without authority is “Who died and made you king?” The Republicans in the U.S. Congress can be expected to challenge President Obama in the year ahead in similar fashion. In his fifth State of the Union, the President declared his solution to an obstructionist Congress. He will simply govern without them.

What is an Executive Order?
His mechanism for this approach is what is called an “executive order, “ which gives the President the power to dictate actions by government that effectively have the force of law. While the words “executive order” do not appear n the U.S. Constitution, the basis for this power is found in Article II, Section I, Clause I, which gives the President the power and responsibility to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Thus, any executive order needs to refer to a law that gives the President the latitude he needs to specify an action by government in furtherance of that law.

For instance, by law, the President has the power to set the terms of a contract under which companies provide services to the government. By executive order, announced in the speech, one of those terms will now be a minimum wage of $10.10. On a far more consequential level, wars have been launched by executive order, as was the case when President Bill Clinton went to war over Kosovo in 1999. In addition, President Roosevelt rounded up and “interned” Japanese-American citizens during World War II with an executive order.

Overturning an Executive Order
By their nature, executive orders are controversial. Either of the other two branches can invalidate them. Courts can, and have, overturned executive orders that have overreached. Moreover, Congress can pass a law to supercede an executive order. And, executive orders can be overturned by a successor president. An executive order banning foreign aid funds to organizations that perform abortions is routinely put in place by Republican presidents and terminated by Democratic presidents.

The use of executive orders is one of those issues on which hypocrisy is bipartisan. Where one stands on the issue depends on where one sits. When the sitting president is of your party, executive orders are a reasonable response to obstructionists in the other party. When the sitting president is of the other party, they are an egregious abuse of power contrary to all that the Founding Fathers held dear.

Expect to hear both sentiments declared with great passion in 2014.

SOTU quotes