The Imperial Presidency

Nov 27, 2012

Whether or not one agrees with his policies and political philosophy, it is irrefutable that President Obama's administration has been characterized by a noticeable tendency to go outside the legislative process to enact his policy priorities via regulation.  Even the New York Times has noted "an increasingly deliberate pattern by the administration to circumvent lawmakers."  The Wall Street Journal explained this pattern simply:  "Mr. Obama proposes, Congress refuses, he does it anyway." 

This habitual tendency to bypass Congress is not just an academic issue for constitutional scholars to ponder.  Far from restricting his executive overreach to minor matters, President Obama has enacted by executive fiat major policy changes that have significant consequences for Americans' daily lives and finances. 

Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently released an extensive report chronicling the Obama administration's serial abuse of executive powers.  Titled "The Imperial Presidency," the report highlights 40 instances in which the president bypassed Congress and the American people to unilaterally implement his liberal policies.

A prime example is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  When the president's economically disastrous cap-and-trade policy failed to win even Democratic support in Congress, his EPA began implementing it anyway.  Explaining that "cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat...And I'm going to be looking for other means," the president and the EPA used the existing Clean Air Act to issue regulations to enforce major aspects of the cap-and-trade legislation.  New EPA mandates regulating coal-fired power plants are so restrictive that some of these electric generation plants have been forced to shut down, jeopardizing jobs both at the plants and in the coal mining industry.  The EPA has indicated its intention to apply to same approach to natural gas exploration. Despite legislative language curtailing EPA authority of hydraulic fracturing in favor of state-level control, EPA's Office of Science Policy recently stated that the agency is taking “a pretty comprehensive look at all the statutes” to find “holes” they can exploit to exercise greater oversight. 

The Obama administration has also ignored Congress regarding oil exploration.  Although Congress acted in 2008 to lift a ban on offshore drilling, the Department of Interior announced its plan to reinstate the moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  A federal judge overturned the ban four months later, but not in time to prevent its infliction of even more job loss and economic harm to a region already struggling to recover from the BP oil spill.

Virtually no aspect of civic life has been left untouched by the president's overreach.  His administration undermined the landmark success of welfare reform by doing away with work requirements, attempted to force a Boeing plant to relocate from South Carolina to more union-friendly Washington, instituted a board empowered to make significant Medicare cuts without congressional approval, and committed the U.S. military to intervene in Libya without seeking the congressional authorization expressly required under the Constitution.

Such major policy changes should only be implemented after extensive and transparent legislative debate that gives the American people and their elected representatives the opportunity to evaluate the potential outcomes and reach consensus.  Bypassing the constitutional process puts responsibility in the hands of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats with alarming consequences for individual liberty, economic prosperity, and the rule of law.  Regardless of which party occupies the White House, the legislative process established under the Constitution should be respected.