At a March 2012 press conference, President Barack Obama said, “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.” President Obama continued his open defiance of Congress in last month’s State of the Union address. He said, “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
His open defiance of Congress shouldn’t be decried – it should be hailed as an unprecedented level of transparency in regards to executive orders. An executive order is a directive by the president that has the same power as a federal law. Generally, an executive order is issued to direct and manage how the federal government operates.
To many, this kind of rhetoric from Obama is dangerous – a show of Obama slowly wrangling legislative power away from Congress. Yet, compared to his predecessors, he is not on some runaway executive-order train.
So far, in his presidency, Obama has issued 167 Executive Orders. Conservative Ronald Reagan issued 381. Franklin D Roosevelt issued 3,728 during his three-term presidency.
The angst that comes about when a president issues an executive order is a mere political football, only becoming an issue when the opposing party holds the presidency.
Compared to his predecessors, Obama is on course to issue fewer executive orders than the two previous presidents did. If you listen to those in the media, you would think Obama was signing hundreds, if not thousands, of executive orders.
Each president has issued good and bad executive orders. The presidential circumvention of Congress started with George Washington, who he himself issued eight executive orders.
Former President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13233, which limited access to the records of former United States presidents to a higher degree than the previous Executive Order, 12667. Bush’s order essentially gutted the Presidential Records Act of 1978. Obama’s Executive Order 13489 revoked Bush’s order, bringing a level of transparency back to the government.
One of the most heinous executive orders issued was Order 9066, which led to the deportation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued this on Feb. 19, 1942.
If you dig deep enough into former executive orders, you will find incidents where presidents have circumvented Congress. But don’t expect Congress to take a real stand against excessive executive orders. It is a power each party loathes, yet desires when they hold the presidency.
It’s not like Obama has sweeping, unchecked power. Congress can attempt to overturn an executive order by passing legislation that opposes it. Granted, the president can veto the bill. In addition, the Supreme Court has the power to declare an executive order unconstitutional.
The angry rhetoric being tossed around about President Obama usurping Congress’ legislative powers is nothing short of fear mongering by a political party that has nothing better to do but complain that they are not getting their way.
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