Obama uses executive powers to get past Congress
For President Obama, it was something akin to a public policy hat trick. "We can't wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won't act, I will," President Obama told students at the University of Colorado-Denver.
During a three-day Western trip that ended Wednesday, Obama announced initiatives that could help 1.6 million college students repay their federal loans, 1 million homeowners meet their mortgage payments, and 8,000 veterans find jobs.
The Democratic president did this with nary a negotiation with congressional Republicans. Like many of his predecessors in the White House, he got past Congress the old-fashioned way: He spurned it.
"We can't wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won't act, I will," Obama told students at the University of Colorado-Denver. "We're going to look every single day to figure out what we can do without Congress."
On all three initiatives, Obama used his executive authority rather than seeking legislation. That limited the scope of his actions, but it enabled him to blow by his Republican critics.
"It's the executive branch flexing its muscles," presidential historian and author Douglas Brinkley says. "President Obama's showing, 'I've still got a lot of cards up my sleeve.'"
The cards aren't exactly aces, however. Unlike acts of Congress, executive actions cannot appropriate money. And they can be wiped off the books by courts, Congress or the next president.
Thus it was that on the day after Obama was inaugurated, he revoked one of George W. Bush's executive orders limiting access to presidential records.
On the very next day, Obama signed an executive order calling for the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility in Cuba to be closed within a year. It remains open today.
Harry Truman's federal seizure of steel mills was invalidated by the Supreme Court. George H.W. Bush's establishment of a limited fetal tissue bank was blocked by Congress. Bill Clinton's five-year ban on senior staff lobbying former colleagues was lifted eight years later — by Clinton.
"Even presidents sometimes reverse themselves," says Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. "Generally speaking, it's more symbolic than substantive."
Not in all cases. Executive orders have been used to make major policies since George Washington's first order in 1789. Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt protected 130 million acres of land and created five national parks. Franklin Roosevelt established internment camps during World War II. Gerald Ford used a presidential proclamation to pardon Richard Nixon in 1974.
They're also used in situations such as the one Obama faces today, with a contrarian Congress blocking legislation. Truman foresaw that trouble for his Republican successor, Dwight Eisenhower, who was coming to the Oval Office after having served as a five-star Army general. "He'll sit here, and he'll say, 'Do this! Do that!' And nothing will happen," Truman said.
Clinton used the tactic in 1998 during the Whitewater scandal, which was crippling his chances of moving legislation through a Republican Congress. His emphasis on executive orders led White House aide Paul Begala to quip in The New York Times: "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kind of cool."
Obama's latest strategy serves as a way to take what limited actions he can while putting pressure on Congress to go further and pass pieces of his $447 billion jobs bill. Senate Republicans have blocked such action, and the House won't consider it.
"Rarely have we had a greater temptation or need or desire to do this," says congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, pointing to Republicans' efforts to stop Obama's agenda.
"It shows a strong, vigorous president," says David Abshire, a former counselor to Ronald Reagan who heads the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. "From a leadership point of view, it's a win-win."
Others see the move toward executive orders as blatantly political. "If they are valuable and they are legal, why didn't he do this two years ago?" says Todd Gaziano, director of legal and judicial studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The White House says there's more to come. "This president is not going to sit around," says communications director Dan Pfeiffer. "You're going to see the administration pick up the pace."
Obama has used executive orders to set ethics rules, clarify labor laws, promote diversity in the workplace and discourage texting while driving. He's also frozen foreign assets invested in the U.S. from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia and Syria.
This week's actions came in areas controlled largely by Congress, such as housing and education. As a result, their impact will be more limited. The veterans employment initiative, for instance, amounts largely to challenging community health centers to hire them.
"You can cajole, you can encourage, you can do anything you want," Light says. "You can encourage the Washington Redskins to win, but that ain't going to do it."
Obama's Great Depression
The president is following in Herbert Hoover's footsteps
Last week the White House picked a Virginia fire station as the venue for the president's principal campaign stop—er, legislative sales pitch. The choice was apt. At roughly the same time the president was lamenting how "cities and states like Michigan and New Jersey . . . have had to lay off big chunks of their forces," Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, "It's very clear that private-sector jobs have been doing just fine; it's the public-sector jobs where we've lost huge numbers."
Oh. Guess you can go home now, Wall Street occupiers! All those unemployment reports? False alarms.
To be fair to Reid—which may be more than he deserves—he was defending the part of the American Jobs Act that would appropriate $35 billion for state and local government hiring. That might help offset the savage cuts of the past year, except for one thing: The cuts have not been that savage. From September of last year to this past month, state and local payrolls have shrunk by 260,000 positions out of more than 20 million. That comes to roughly 1 percent of the work force.
The situation looks much worse for the private sector. It has added jobs at an anemic rate in the past few months, but it still has far to go before it claws its way back to the employment peak of November 2007. At that time total non-government employment stood at 124 million. It's now 109 million. Barack Obama has joined George W. Bush in a dubious category. They are the only two presidents besides Herbert Hoover to see the number of job-holding Americans decline on their watch.
The parallels with Hoover don't end there. It's commonly believed Hoover took a hands-off approach to the country's economic distress, and that his administration's tight-fisted refusal to spend prolonged the misery. But Hoover was about as stingy with a government dollar as "Jersey Shore" is with hairspray.
Hoover increased federal spending by more than 50 percent, signed the biggest peacetime tax increase to that point, lavished money on public works, and signed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley protectionist tariff. FDR slammed Hoover's "reckless and extravagant" spending and accused him of wanting to "center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible." Roosevelt's running mate, John Nance Garner, denounced Hoover for "leading the country down the path of socialism."
Hoover's massive government interventionism did not end the Great Depression. George W. Bush's rapid spending increases did not forestall the current malaise. And the massive government outlays of the past three years—federal spending has increased 30 percent; despite layoffs, state and local spending has grown, not shrunk—have not cured the country's economic ills, either. Yet the answer, say countless voices in the prestige press, is to stop Washington's ruinous "austerity" and start spending.
How many moons orbit the planet they're living on? If a $900 billion spending hike is austerity, what in the world does extravagance look like?
Actually, it looks something like the $440,000 Washington spent on a museum for antique bikes. Or the half-million-dollar federal outlay for beautifying decorative rocks. Those are some of the things Sen. John McCain recently urged Congress to stop using tax dollars for—along with the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky and a giant coffee pot in Pennsylvania—on the theory that maybe the money could be used better elsewhere. The Senate didn't buy it, and last Wednesday his colleagues shot down his proposal 59-39.
This kind of thinking shows why the congressional super-committee has deadlocked. The super-committee is supposed to hash out a deal by Thanksgiving to reduce the deficit. According to the narrative in the prestige press, blame for the impasse falls on the GOP's tax intransigence. Democrats won't agree to spending cuts until Republicans agree to revenue hikes, goes the story, and Republicans are fanatical. But that narrative—like Hoover's austerity and the austerity of this summer's recent budget deal—is a myth. Given the recent spending explosion, blaming the GOP for not meeting Democrats halfway is like blaming the victim of a mugging who hands over 95 dollars and then refuses to go halfsies on the last five bucks. Man, what kind of selfish jerk isn't willing to meet his opponent halfway?
As even The New York Times conceded a couple of months ago, "There is something you should know about the deal to cut federal spending that President Obama signed into law on Tuesday: It does not actually reduce federal spending. By the end of the 10-year deal, the federal debt would be much larger than it is today. Indeed, both the government and its debts will continue to grow faster than the American economy."
That story also noted, "The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal debt is likely to exceed 100 percent of the nation's annual economic output by 2021." Well. According to the latest figures, U.S. debt is on track to exceed GDP by Halloween—this Halloween.
Herbert Hoover would be proud.
Secret ballot elections? Not if the NLRB has its way
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds itself in the news again as a federal court ruled that its lawsuit against the states of Arizona and South Dakota can move ahead.
The heinous crime committed by these states (along with South Carolina and Utah, which are not being sued) that drew the ire of the NLRB? The people of these states had the audacity to overwhelmingly vote in favor of state constitutional amendments last November that ensures workers secret ballot union elections.
That’s right; our federal government is suing states because they want to protect their citizen’s right to one of the most fundamental of all American principles — the ability to keep their vote secret.
In the what’s-up-is-down world of the Obama Administration, protecting the secret ballot election when deciding whether workers want to unionize brings the hammer of an NLRB lawsuit down upon you.
After all, their Big Labor political allies just spent hundreds of millions of dollars seeking to convince Congress to allow them to shelve secret ballot elections all together, so after failing that, it is only logical that the Obama NLRB would sue states that protected them.
Now, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has stepped into the fray introducing legislation that would specifically allow states to protect their resident’s secret-ballot rights. The Duncan bill already has 38 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives is designed to protect workers right to choose whether to join a union or not.
More fool them: Banks lose 50% of what they lent to the Greeks: "Eurozone leaders have sealed a three-part deal, which they hope will convince markets they have an effective response to the growing economic crisis. In the early hours of this morning, officials in Brussels said an accord had been reached with banks on a 50 per cent write-off of Greek debt, and they had also approved a complex mechanism for 'leveraging' an existing bailout fund to boost its firepower. It means that, coupled with an earlier decision to recapitalise vulnerable banks, the summit has delivered on the package it promised.
DC: “Lemonistas” charges dropped: "Three people arrested in August for selling lemonade on U.S. Capitol grounds were set free after the charges were dropped Monday in D.C. Superior Court. Blogger Meg McLain, one of the women arrested at the Aug. 20 lemonade stand, along with New Hampshire activists Will Duffield and Katherine Dill, said they were facing up to a year in jail when the judge told the group the case was dismissed."
Krugman’s space aliens won’t create jobs, repealing health control law will: "What do you think will help decrease unemployment and underemployment? What role do you think the government can, or should, play in encouraging job growth? Space aliens attack! Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman says we need scientists to 'fake an alien threat.' 'A massive buildup to counter' the threat, real or not, would end the economic slump 'in eighteen months,' he said. Dr. Krugman unwittingly shows how loony Keynesian economic 'stimulus' schemes are."
US government getting snoopier and snoopier, says Google: "Government authorities in the United States showed an increased interest in Google account holders in the first half of 2011, according to a report released Tuesday by the search giant. The report showed that 5,950 requests for information were made by U.S. government authorities during the first six months of this year, compared to 4,601 requests during the last six months of last year -- an increase of 29 percent."
Report: DoJ could ignore FOIA requests: "A longtime internal policy that allowed Justice Department officials to deny the existence of sensitive information could become the law of the land -- in effect a license to lie -- if a newly proposed rule becomes federal regulation in the coming weeks. The proposed rule directs federal law enforcement agencies, after personnel have determined that documents are too delicate to be released, to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests 'as if the excluded records did not exist.' Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, says the move appears to be in direct conflict with the administration's promise to be more open"
Why I decided to publish directly through Amazon: "Amazon’s print-on-demand service (through subsidiary CreateSpace) assures that supply always meets demand by eliminating the guesswork inherent in legacy publishing and thus the risks associated with printing thousands of copies of something that might not sell and could be left to rot away in a warehouse. Amazon brings to market good books that might otherwise be left to rot away on a hard drive because the market for them was considered too small (or nonexistent) or they were considered too risky. By doing so, Amazon encourages writers to write what they want to write, not what the publishers think they can sell to the most people"
Stopping the HHS database!: "Another ObamaCare abomination has recently come into light. I know, I know, you're as surprised as I was. This time, it's a rule that allows Kathleen Sebelius and the Department of Health and Human Services to create a national database by forcing insurance companies to turn over YOUR private health records. ... This breach of doctor-patient confidentiality puts your information at risk."
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