Executive orders: Is Obama breaking the law?

Critics say the president is ruling by executive decree and accuse him of “gross executive usurpation.”

The Constitution authorizes Congress to pass laws, and the president to “faithfully execute” them, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. But President Obama doesn’t like that constitutional limitation on his powers—so he’s just ignoring it, and ruling by executive decree. In just the latest abuse of executive orders, Obama last week directed U.S. attorneys to end mandatory sentences for federal drug offenses, even if it means withholding evidence from judges. Last month, he suspended the employer mandate provision of Obamacare by executive fiat. In 2012, he simply ignored Congress and unilaterally ended the deportation of immigrants brought here illegally as children. This “gross executive usurpation” to make law is “banana republic stuff.” In fact, it’s reminiscent of Richard Nixon, said George Will, also in the Post. In 1977, Nixon famously said that when a president does something illegal, “that means it is not illegal.”

Spare me these ridiculous “Nixon hyperventilations,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Federal agencies delay or amend implementation of parts of laws for practical reasons all the time, just as the White House did with the employer mandate. That’s hardly a usurpation of congressional authority. Nixon, by contrast, ordered a break-in of the opposition party’s headquarters, and authorized bribes to silence his henchmen. And if Obama is blatantly violating the Constitution, “why is he getting away with it so easily?” The truth is, “Obama has not gone outside the norm here,” said Norm Ornstein in TheAtlantic.com. In fact, the same people shouting “tyranny” now applauded “aggressive executive unilateralism under Reagan and Bush.”

Actually, executive authority has expanded dangerously under Obama, said Robert Reich in The New York Times, and Congress deserves a big share of the blame. Since the GOP-controlled House refuses to participate in governing the nation, passing only 15 bills this year, Obama has decided to go it alone. Through the Environmental Protection Agency, he’ll make climate-change policy, and when it comes to boosting the economy, the Federal Reserve is “the only game in town.” This is a profoundly undemocratic way to run the country, since these agencies operate without transparency, and do not answer to voters. By trying to tie government into knots, the GOP has only succeeded in “making our government less accountable to the people.”

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