Alyssa has taught me everything I know about how to be a grandmother. We were driving to the movies to see Maleficent when she asked if we could go to the mall later in the afternoon. There’s an outfit at Zara that she “had her eye on”.
We’d made out first trip to the “big girl” (high end) mall only a couple of weeks ago. She had a wonderful report card and a fabulous dance recital.
A new outfit to wear to her younger sister’s dance recital seemed like an appropriate reward. She scored big – a coveted jean jacket – pricey but indestructible.
I thought the trip was a special occasion. She thought it was the start of something new. In her mind it was a precedent – a model for future shopping behavior. The tricky thing – it’s hard to reverse.
I’m pretty sure I’ll be at Zara’s next week.
It’s a Slippery Slope: Successive Presidents Attempt to Expand Executive Power
American Presidents have long thought like my granddaughter. Each successful exercise of executive power becomes a precedent to the benefit of subsequent Presidents.
Each success only whets the Presidential appetite to demand more.
It’s part of a historic wrestling match between Congress and the President.
The Founding Fathers consciously did everything they could to tip the constitutional scales of power in favor of Congress – the direct representative of the people – and away from the President.
The Founding Fathers were emphatic. All laws must be written and passed by both Houses of Congress not promulgated by the Executive. The President can veto a bill but Congress can override him/her.
Congress has the power to tax, to budget, to declare war, to confirm the President’s appointees.
The President has no power to remove or punish members of Congress but Congress can impeach him/her.
All Presidents have chafed at these restrictions. President George Washington issued the first executive order and opened Pandora’s Box. By proclaimed November 26 as a “day of national thanksgiving” – he created a plausible precedent.
Every succeeding President – claiming the necessity of managing an increasingly complicated nation and government – has attempted to expand their authority through the use of executive orders, executive memoranda and signing statements. By using documents instead of speeches, they’ve given these actions a patina of legality.
They’ve dared Congress “to do something about it”.
Obama Pushes Envelope on Executive Power Furthest Yet
President Obama has taken this wrestling match with Congress further than any of his 43 predecessors.
He unilaterally declared the Senate to be in recess to push through presidential (recess) appointments. The Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 against him.
President Obama has claimed the power to take “executive action – when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing”. He granted himself the authority to redefine, reinterpret and/or ignore significant portions of existing laws – essentially rejecting the constitutional requirement to consult and compromise with the Congress.
He claims all he needs to govern is “a pen and a phone”.
- He wrote several memoranda to the Secretary of Health and Human Services significantly changing the scope and the implementation timelines specified in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
- He wrote a memorandum to his Secretary of Homeland Security instructing her to treat undocumented minor children as though a Dream Act had passed Congress when it hasn’t.
- He asserted that he has the authority to send combat air craft into Iraq without consultation with Congress – raising bi-partisan alarm.
Kings Govern by Proclamation – Not American Presidents
The President’s unwillingness to work with Congress to fix laws he believes need fixing violates his constitutional oath to “faithfully execute“ the laws of the land.
The President’s actions amount to governing by (royal) proclamation!
Unchallenged, the President’s actions amount to a precedent that essentially invalidates the constitutional system of checks and balances – the core principle underlying our government and social system.
Unchallenged, the President would set a precedent that reduces Congress to an investigative body.
Unchallenged, the President’s actions establish an unchecked, Kingly Presidency that’s, well, un-American.
Politicians Still Serve at OUR Sufferance.
It is OUR responsibility to challenge the threat that comes with unprecedented claims over the scope of independent Presidential authority.
A President who cannot be “trusted to enforce the law as written” establishes a precedent another President could extend to threaten our individual freedoms – guaranteed through a written Constitution.
There hasn’t been a more important mid-term election in 80 years – if ever.
Photo Credit: Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times