Sunday, July 15, 2012

Congress? We don't need no stinkin' Congress!

On April 2nd, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of ObamaCare, President Obama threatened advised the Court that it should not “take the unprecedented extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” (This was the second time Obama challenged the authority of the Supreme Court in a public setting.)  We may never definitively learn whether it was this Chicago-style warning -- Nice little Court you got here, it would be a shame if something happened to it -- persuaded Chief Justice Roberts to move from Column B over to Column A, but we certainly know the ultimate outcome of the Court’s deliberations, and it brought a smile to the faces of the President and Nancy Pelosi.
Never one to listen to his own advice, President Obama has now taken it upon himself to unilaterally overturn laws passed by strong majorities of democratically elected Congresses.  In fact, he’s doing it with increasing frequency as the Election approaches.  Unfailingly these unilateral power-grabs are targeted to benefit a Democrat special interest group whose support is critical to the outcome of the 2012 -- and future -- elections.  Typically these dictates are accomplished by Executive Orders to executive agencies, instructing Cabinet Secretaries to not enforce laws passed by Congress and signed into law by previous Presidents, some of his own party.  Alternatively, the Obama Administration unilaterally imposes laws through regulations when Congress has deliberately chosen not to enact similar provisions.  These actions are typical of strongman Presidents and despots in banana republics, where one-man rule is the law of the land; they dishonor our Constitutional Government which has served our country faithfully for 225 years, through Civil Wars, World Wars, Depressions, and foreign attacks. 
Very recent examples of this Administration’s power grabs can be found in the area of immigration, education, and welfare reform. 
IMMIGRATION.  Congress considered and, through the deliberative process, rejected various versions of the DREAM Act in 2001, 2007 and 2010.  This legislation would grant certain undocumented immigrants the opportunity to stay in the U.S. and not face deportment if they met stated criteria.  Principles of the DREAM Act poll well among Hispanic voters, 67% of whom cast their ballots for Obama in 2008.

In an interview with the Spanish television network Univision earlier this year, when asked why he could not implement immigration reform, Obama stated he can’t just “waive away the laws that Congress put in place” and that “the President doesn’t have the authority to simply ignore Congress and say ‘We’re not going to enforce the laws that you’ve passed.’”  Obama made similar comments to LaRaza in 2011. 

Well, someone or something (like maybe a recent poll showing a neck and neck election with Republican nominee Romney) must have gotten to him.  On June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration ignored Congress and implemented its personal flavor of immigration reform.  DHS Secretary Napolitano instructed federal immigration officials to not pursue, prosecute or initiate deportation proceedings for young people aged 16-30 who met criteria suspiciously similar to those contained in the proposed DREAM Act.  These undocumented immigrants may now remain in the United States without fear of deportation, and are also eligible to receive renewable 2-year work permits.  It is estimated that 800K to 1M people are affected by this Executive Order.  Napolitano and Obama justified this power grab of the control of the immigration process by stating it is ‘the right thing to do.’ Ironically, it was this very practice of Federal officials ignoring and/or refusing to enforce immigration regulations that prompted the State of Arizona to pass laws relating to their own immigration enforcement which were the subject of a Supreme Court decision issued just before the infamous ObamaCare decision. And although the Court struck down much of Arizona's controversial immigration law in its ruling, the identification verification provision at its core was upheld; this has not stopped the Administration from simply refusing to comply with Arizona officials in the execution of this approved verification processes.

Is Immigration reform necessary?  Perhaps.  But our Founders wrote this bothersome thing called a Constitution in which it is the job of the legislature to pass the laws which are to be ‘faithfully executed’ by the executive branch. 

EDUCATION.  In 2002, President Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act, ushering in the next chapter in the unfortunate novel of Federal intervention in state and local public education.  Say what you will about NCLB, and I am no fan of it, but it cannot be disputed that NCLB was bipartisan legislation (Democrat leader Ted Kennedy spearheaded the NCLB through Congress and authored many of the provisions) passed by a strong majority of Congress (384-45 support in the House, and 91-8 support in the Senate). 

One of the features of NCLB is the establishment of rigorous national testing standards, and financial penalties for schools whose students fail to pass the tests.  Last fall, the Obama Administration, led by Education Secretary Arne Duncan (he of the Chicago School of Street-fighting politics) enticed states with the opportunity to apply for waivers from the strict testing standards of NCLB.  To be considered for such a waiver, a state “had to agree to parts of the Obama education agenda, which includes a "college- and career-ready" standards and grading teachers, in part, in accordance with students' standardized test scores. And instead of subjecting all schools to potential punishments, only 15 percent of each state's lowest-performing schools would be affected," according to the  Huffington Post, July 6, 2012

Just last week, Secretary Duncan approved the waiver applications submitted by the states of Washington and Wisconsin, bringing the total number of states who have received waivers to 26, over half of the 50 states in the Union.  Effectively, President Obama gutted and rewrote Federal education standards and policies without as much as a vote in Congress.

The Sons are not advocates of Federal involvement in state or local elementary, high school, or college education.  We believe that the heavy hand of Uncle Sam inevitably distorts and homogenizes school systems in a way that was never intended and is counterproductive to actual instruction in the classroom.  Our country managed to educate its children quite nicely for nearly 200 years before Jimmy Carter, in a payoff to the Teachers’ Unions, created the Department of Education.  President Reagan would have done us all a favor by killing that baby in the crib.  Nonetheless, if President Obama’s ambition is to rewrite and implement an entirely new system of Federal overlording of local school systems, he should at least have the decency to cram his proposals down the throat of Congress, like he did with ObamaCare. 

WELFARE REFORM.  Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 as a “New Democrat,” and one of his campaign planks was reforming the Federal welfare system.  Strong words for a Democrat candidate.  In August 1996, Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which enacted welfare reform (he previously vetoed two welfare reform bills).  The PRWOR Act had strong bipartisan support of a democratically elected Congress: the bill passed the House by a vote of 328-100, and the Senate by a vote of 78-21.  Included in this welfare reform legislation was the revamping of the failed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, a limit on the duration of welfare benefits, and work requirements for recipients of welfare benefits.
By all accounts welfare reform was successful, and a prototypical example of Clinton’s legendary ability to ‘triangulate’ between forces of the left and right, all the while appearing to be the true honest political broker.  Clinton negotiated the legislation with then Senate majority leader Trent Lott and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.  He broke the mold of the perception of Democrat Presidents as entitlement Kings, and at least for one shining moment suggested that Republicans and Democrats could cooperate on matters of national import.   It was President Clinton’s signature legislative moment.

But President Obama doesn’t like it, at least that section of the PRWOR which requires welfare recipients to seek and obtain work.  Earlier this week the Obama Department of HHS (yes, that same HHS which is requiring the Catholic church to provide abortifacents, sterilization and contraception to its employees) advised States of the “Secretary’s willingness to exercise her waiver authority…to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”  In other words, states can apply for waivers of the requirement that welfare recipients work or meaningfully search for work.  These waivers will gut the seminal feature of Clinton’s welfare reform law.   
House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Orrin Hatch issued blistering attacks on Obama’s usurping of duly-enacted legislation.  Even neo-liberal blogger Mickey Kaus criticized Obama’s rewriting of Clinton's signature legislation.  Sadly, this is yet another example of President Obama picking and choosing those laws which he deems worthy of enforcement.
Numerous other examples abound of the regal Obama Administration end-running or, in some cases, blatantly ignoring Constitutional and legislative requirements.  They include: the EPA implementing a Cap-and-Trade system which Congress rejected; the DOJ refusing to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that the DOJ believes it is not constitutional (I missed that section of the Constitution which delegates that decision-making authority from the Supreme Court to the DOJ); declaring Congress to be in recess to justify making four recess appointments; the NLRB rewriting union election regulations after Congress declined to pass the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act; and the list continues. 
This Administration has disdain for Congress and the Constitution.  As a State Senator, Barack Obama criticized the Constitution as a ‘charter of negative rights’, stating that it doesn’t go far enough in outlining what Government must do for people.  As a candidate, Barack Obama publicly committed to his goal of ‘transforming America.’  When he was inaugurated, Barack Obama swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  There is no exemption in the oath for those sections of the Constitution with which Obama does not agree.    
When the Constitution was enacted, Founding Father John Adams definitively declared the United States as a Republic of Laws, not of Men.  Later, in a letter to Abigail Adams, he noted “A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored.  Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”  Nothing is permanent.  The Caesars, soldiers and citizens of Rome certainly thought its empire would endure forever.  If we casually and knowingly permit the steady erosion of Constitutional Government, as practiced and perfected by the Obama Administration, we too will witness the vandals desecrating the glories of a once proud Republic.        

As Arthur Toynbee observed, "Civilizations die by suicide, not by murder."


  1. Tim,
    Hard to argue with your logic. But you do not take Congress to task on this. Aren't they theoretically supposed to be equal to the President in our system? Why doesn't Congress do something about the injustices you note above? They have power. They have a lot of influential money behind them. Sitting on the sidelines doing little is just as unacceptable as the President's actions. One could argue that it is worse. Our duly elected representatives are either powerless, incompetent or mostly supportive of the President's actions. What other explanations are there for inaction?

    1. Dean,

      You raise a great point. In our Constitutional government there has always been a push and pull in the branches regarding the exercise of power. The natural instinct of a President, regardless of his party, is to assume as much power as possible. It is the responsiblity of the Congress to keep the Executive in check. In the past, there have been Senators who have jealously protected the authority of their deliberative body against the encroachment of the President. Robert Byrd of West Virginia is an example. He pushed back against Presidents even of his own party when he felt their actions intruded on the authority of the Senate. Sadly, we don't seem to have those kinds of representatives in the House or Senate. Republicans like Boehner and Hatch write a mean letter, but ultimately it appears as though they are not really responding to the President's power grabs with any kind of meaningful response.
      Look for an entry from Jack on how administrative agencies, like HHS, are engaged in further appropriations of power from Congress.

      Thanks as always for your thoughtful comment.