Obama faces backlash on executive power


For a man who prides himself on winding down two wars, President Barack Obama certainly has started up a lot of new ones.

There’s the war on coal. The war on gun owners. Even the war on ceiling fans.

At least, that’s how it looks from the Republican side of the aisle.

The GOP has watched in mounting frustration as Obama has deftly circumvented Congress and marshaled the federal bureaucracy to enact a host of liberal priorities. It’s been an ambitious, aggressive executive power play – and, as laid out in a Politico Pro special report, there’s much more to come.

Obama faces backlash on executive power

But Obama’s use of executive power could come back to haunt him.

Republicans in Congress, infuriated at being bypassed, are using every shred of authority they can muster to try to halt or delay the president’s agenda. At the very least, they figure, they can whip up public outrage, drive down Obama’s approval rating and perhaps persuade him to retreat.

The executive agenda outlined in the Politico Pro report — which described an administration eager to shape everything from the content of third-grade math tests to the recipe for Reese’s Pieces to the fuel sources that power our homes — spooks voters, and not just Republicans, said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). “This is something that people react to viscerally,” Stewart said.

Republican lawmakers have called dozens of hearings – and made even more speeches – to rake over the administration’s regulatory actions, though they have little power to block them. No cause is too small: Truckers’ hours. Silica dust exposure. Junk food marketing. The effect of health insurance mandates on substitute teachers. And yes, ceiling fan efficiency standards.

Republicans have also filed lawsuits and legislative amendments trying to rein in executive power. One resolution calling for the House to take stronger legal action is sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.). He calls it the S.T.O.P. act – for Stop This Overreaching Presidency.

Big business and big industry have stepped in, too. They’ve sued to overturn regulations. They’ve also sought to delay the rule-making process by demanding more time to evaluate draft regulations — and then flooding agencies with comments.

So far, for all the storm and fury, the biggest victory the GOP has notched is a provision tucked into the recent bipartisan budget bill that bars the Energy Department from enforcing an efficiency standard that would have phased out incandescent light bulbs. (That particular efficiency standard was actually enacted by former President George W. Bush, but no matter, it’s been branded as Obama’s “war on light bulbs.”)

That is, admittedly, a modest win from a policy perspective. But shaping policy isn’t the only priority. Firing up voters for an Obama backlash in this year’s mid terms is the bigger goal.

At several town-hall meetings in his district last week, Stewart mentioned that the budget bill stops the phase out of incandescent bulbs. “That’s the biggest applause line I heard,” he said. Constituents came up to him after and asked, “Why in the world is the government making regulations like that? What makes the president think he has the authority to do that?” Stewart said. “They know once you let that genie out of the bottle, it’s very, very difficult to get it back.”

In the face of this barrage, the White House has weakened some regulations and scrapped others, most notably a landmark ozone rule to tackle air pollution.

But Obama has also made clear that with Congress mired in gridlock, he has little choice but to move ahead on his own. Now that he’s past the 2012 elections and eying his legacy, analysts on both left and right expect his administration to pick up the pace and enact more mandates meant to stamp his vision of a healthier, cleaner, greener America into the fabric of the nation.

In an interview that aired Friday night with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the president dismissed the Republican stall-and-block tactics as not a serious threat. He predicted that hindering his use of executive power would simply anger a public that already views Congress with distaste. “It’s a tough argument for the other side to make that not only are they willing to not do anything, but they also want me not to do anything,” Obama said.

The truth is, as Obama well knows, Republicans have few options for overturning executive actions.

The Senate does have the power — under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 — to repeal regulations with a simple majority vote. But Democrats control the chamber.

Undaunted, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, recently called for the Senate to consider a “disapprovalresolution” on an EPA rule restricting emissions from coal-burning power plants.

It’s not likely to pass. But McConnell says he wants to force vulnerable Democrats to take a public stance on Obama’s climate change policies.

The GOP is also attacking the environmental regulation on another front: It has accused the EPA of violating an obscure provision from a 2005 energy law when the agency determined that viable technology exists for power plants to capture carbon emissions. The state of Nebraska recently filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the regulation, using the GOP’s argument as the basis for its action. Republicans are delighted.

“We’re working in Congress to reject the new coal regulations through the Congressional Review Act and we’ll continue challenging [Obama’s] overreach in the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court,” McConnell said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already heard one major executive power case: A GOP challenge to Obama’s decision to appoint a director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three new members of the National Labor Relations Board when the Senate was in recess and thus couldn’t hold confirmation hearings. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last month; both liberal and conservative judges appeared highly skeptical of Obama’s move and likely to rule the appointments unconstitutional.

Back in their districts, meanwhile, many Republicans are fanning a populist rebellion against another Obama priority: The Common Core academic standards.

The administration didn’t write the guidelines for math and language arts instruction, but has promoted them heavily as part of an executive-branch drive to reshape public education across the country. Now conservative groups are in open revolt against what they see as a ham-handed attempt to steer local curricular decisions from the White House.

In the face of this multi-pronged campaign to rein in executive power, Obama’s supporters are unsure how to respond.

“We’re not the Koch brothers or JP Morgan,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If they spend $10 million trying to affect a regulation and it ends up saving them $1 billion, that’s a good return on investment. We don’t get that kind of funding. What we’re trying to do is for the common good.”

Progressives also worry that their appeal to the “common good” may be too abstract for the public to grasp —whereas Republican rhetoric about red tape strangling the economy has a visceral appeal.

A 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of Americans believe government regulation of business usually does more harm than good. Yet asked about specific topics, the public overwhelmingly expresses support for maintaining – and even strengthening – federal regulation in arenas like food safety, environmental protection and vehicle efficiency.

Even among Republicans, only 36 percent called for rolling back environmental protection and just 9 percent wanted a reduction in regulation on food production and packaging.

Yet in the State of the Union, the president didn’t talk much about using his powers to protect clean air and safe food. The executive actions Obama highlighted were much more modest, and less controversial: He’d connect more schools to high-speed internet. He’d create a new type of retirement savings account. Liberals wish he would have made a more forceful defense of his bigger agenda.

When the business community starts its drumbeat about government overreach, “it’s so important for the president to send a different message – that these regulations are important,” said Celia Wexler, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The president gets a mixed grade from Wexler and other advocates of regulation. True, Obama has used his executive powers broadly to tackle challenges from climate change to obesity. Yet many liberals also see missed opportunities.

Consumer advocates had to sue to prod the Food and Drug Administration to get cracking on seven crucial regulations needed to put teeth in the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act, which Obama pushed through Congress in 2010, when Democrats still controlled both houses. A court ordered the FDA to finalize the rules by the middle of next year.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and other independent agencies working on Dodd-Frank rules are way behind, too, having blown their legal deadlines for completing 132 of the 398 rules required under the act — though the most important rules are largely finished.

Liberals are hopeful the pace will now pick up. They’re encouraged by the return to the White House of presidential advisor John Podesta, who is known as a forceful voice in favor of regulation. And they’re optimistic about Howard Shelanski, the new administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which vets many regulations for the White House.

If the left is hopeful, the right is howling.

Conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, warns that Obama’s reliance on executive action has stirred up so much ire in Congress, he’s scuttled any – admittedly already quite slim— chance at bipartisan cooperation.

“It leads to additional Washington dysfunction,” said Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum. “With every new stretching of the boundary of executive authority, the president alienates Congress and makes it that much more difficult to get ordinary things done.”

Indeed, Republicans are already planning to make executive overreach a campaign issue for the midterms – and likely for 2016 as well.

And then, says Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), just wait. One day, a Republican president may face a divided Congress and look to Obama as a model for how to get things done in the face of gridlock.

“As future administrations eye these actions,” Issa said, “I suspect those who cheer on these power grabs will one day come to regret them.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. MG says:

    Obama’s “executive order” edicts are a de facto form of dictatorship! Congress makes law, NOT the President!

    The President does NOT have the CONSTITUTIONAL authority to fabricate decrees out of thin air to facilitate his agendas and benefactors! These illegitimate “executive orders” are grounds for impeachment!

    Those who ignore their responsibilities or facilitate Obama’s illegal activity are a part of the problem. If they refuse to keep their oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution”, the military has an obligation to step in to defend the Constitution against ALL enemies both foreign and DOMESTIC!

    Semper Fidelis

Leave a Reply

© 2014 Pakalert Press. All rights reserved.