First off, I want to wish all my readers a very happy Independence Day. I believe we live in the greatest country in the world and we should all be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy, since they were purchased at such a high price by our men and women in uniform.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’ll dispense with the pleasantries and unleash the grouchiness and sarcasm that you’ve come to expect if you’re a regular reader of my columns.
America is still a great country, but I think most of us feel our best days seem to be behind us. One of the biggest reasons we feel that way is because in a very real sense we no longer have a functioning federal government. We have a divided Congress and partisan vitriol is so intense they are largely unable to pass any significant legislation at all.
President Obama has been frustrated by that as well. What fun is it being president when you are presiding over a government that does absolutely nothing, ever? Not much fun, I bet.
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Our president is a go-getter though, and he hasn’t been taking it lying down. Since Congress cannot get things done, he has told us numerous times, he will do all he can to implement “change” on his own. And that means issuing numerous executive orders.
And issue them he has. Some of the more infamous orders he has issued so far have modified some of the more unpopular elements of Obamacare, effected changes to U.S. immigration laws and given the EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions. In all, he has issued 168 executive orders since he has been in office.
So just what is an executive order, anyway? The idea behind them is they are actions the president (the chief executive) takes to effectively carry out laws that have been passed by Congress. (According to our Constitution, the president isn’t supposed to make new laws, only execute them.)
Conservatives have for years been calling out Obama for doing just that -- using executive orders to make up his own laws and thereby violating the Constitution. Finally, their howls of protest were answered last week when House Majority Leader John Boehner filed a lawsuit charging Obama with violating the law with his irresponsible use of executive orders.
I think it’s easy to make the case that the president’s use of executive orders does indeed represent an unconstitutional infringement on Congress’ responsibility to legislate, but is he the first president to go hog wild with this sort of thing?
No he is not. Not by a longshot. If 168 executive orders in 5 years seems like a lot, consider the 291 that President George W. Bush issued during his tenure, or the 364 that President Bill Clinton churned out. That conservative icon President Ronald Reagan generated 381, and FDR (who admittedly was in office for a very long time) generated 3,522. Obviously Obama is not going to break any records here.
But what about the content of the orders? Have other presidents been more mindful of using them to execute existing laws rather than creating new ones? Not always.
President Harry Truman issued one to nationalize all steel mills during a labor strike in 1952, for instance. And remember those internment camps that Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to during WWII? That was also an executive order.
Obama didn’t invent this phenomenon, it’s just part of an imbalance of power in the executive branch’s favor that has been going on for a long time, and both parties are quite complicit.
This is not to say that the lawsuit Boehner filed doesn’t have merit. It does. But the fact that it is being filed by the Republicans while a Democrat is in office and the fact that Obama didn’t exactly invent unconstitutional law-making via executive order makes it look like a partisan, election-year stunt to a lot of Americans.
What the president is doing is unconstitutional and just plain wrong. It’s just too bad that when a president does something wrong only the opposing party thinks something needs to be done about it.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.