Congress Sidelined by President Obama

CongressIn comments made today, President Obama implied that Congress may be sidelined by his efforts to pursue his policy agenda in the coming year. With the House of Representatives still in Republican hands and the possibility existing for them to gain control of the Senate after the 2014 mid-term elections, it remains unlikely that President Obama will find much success in achieving direct legislative action. Despite opposition in Congress, Obama is calling 2014 a “Year of Action” and plans to use the tools of executive orders and direct appeals to the American public in order to implement his policy goals.

Among the objectives that Obama seeks to achieve are further changes to immigration policy, economic reforms to address the sluggish recovery and growing income inequality, expansion of gay rights, and new environmental regulations. The president has already used executive orders to address aspects of some of these issues in the past.  For example, he ended the deportation of several categories of undocumented immigrants and the EPA has already modified some carbon emission regulations. On each occasion he expressed a preference for direct legislative action, but stated that he would use his executive authority when Congress failed to act. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama told reporters today. Many political observers have noted that President Obama is perhaps at his most successful in “campaign mode” where he directly takes his message to people, so perhaps it should not be surprising that Congress might be sidelined in this process.

Obama is hardly the first president to make extensive use of executive orders, nor is he the first president to find himself consistently at odds with a hostile Congress. For comparison, his predecessor George W. Bush issued just short of 300 executive orders during his two terms in office and was faced with a Congress controlled by the opposing party in his second term, much like Obama faces today. To date Obama has issued 165 in his nearly six years in office and enjoyed a friendly Congress during his first term, as Bush did. So it is not the sheer number of these orders that is controversial, nor the composition of Congress at the time, but rather the content of those orders and the apparent contempt for Congress President Obama is accused of displaying.

His conservative critics, both in the Congress and the media, see his executive orders as a blatant attempt to subvert the concept of separation of powers and to empower the executive over the legislature. They argue that only Congress should have the authority to implement policies such as immigration reform, gun control policy, environmental regulation, etc. and that Obama is overstepping his authority. Obama and his supporters would reply that if Congress would take action on those items themselves, he would not need to use executive orders to address them. But how is “action” defined? Does “action” mean to follow the course that the president prescribes, or is Congress free to determine its own path? That is what Obama’s critics contend, that he defines “action” only as following his preferred course. This again shows how this current conflict between the president and Congress is not a new issue.

The president and the Congress have been at odds since the founding of the country, and in a sense that is exactly what the Framers intended when they designed this system of government. President Bush found himself in similar situations during his tenure in office, as did President Clinton before him. In fact one could argue that it is when both the president and Congress are in agreement that the government might be at its most “dangerous” in terms of threatening the rights of the people.

With the State of the Union speech right around the corner, it is likely that more rhetoric on this topic will be heard from both sides. President Obama will continue this course of taking his message directly to the people, and Republicans in Congress will continue to argue that he is overstepping his bounds. But with so many key items on his agenda, and so little movement on many of these issues, it should come as no surprise that President Obama will continue to look to keep Congress sidelined if that is what will lead to progress on his objectives.

By:  Christopher V. Spencer


Yahoo! News

5 Responses to "Congress Sidelined by President Obama"

  1. Juan   January 20, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    The American system of government is unique in the world and different from parliamentary forms of government in that we have the possibility of the executive and the legislative branches of government being controlled by competing parties. (In a parliamentary system the majority party or coalition elects the prime minister.) As a result, the American system brings the delightful possibility of “gridlock.”

    While the liberal press often decries gridlock as a barrier to its own version of liberal progress, the fact is that gridlock is one of the best things that can happen to the country. If Thomas Jefferson was right when he said, “The government that governs best governs least,” then any situation has to be looked at positively when it hamstrings and slows government’s power to enact laws.

    Gridlock is also an effective deterrent to hasty, populist legislation. When the same party controls both Congress and the White House, it is all too easy to enact legislation that reacts to current events, opinion polls, or fad-driven trends. The checks and balances on the legislative process are designed to make sure that only the best, most well-considered bills will actually become the law of the land.

    When there is no gridlock, or the president tries to legislate by executive fiat, watch out!

  2. North Idaho Concepts   January 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Nice article Chris! People need to know this!!!!! There are too many humans walking around this country not understanding what and why the president is actually doing. With him achieving a second term, he may try to really PUSH the envelope as far as he can to forward his agenda. CHECKS and BALANCES…… does this term ring-a-bell to anyone anymore? Or are we just to lazy to care???? Keep it coming Chris- Josh

  3. Donna Rae Jones   January 15, 2014 at 11:28 am

    This is a clearly written article that helped me understand how the politicians are working this situation.

  4. Donna Rae   January 15, 2014 at 11:10 am

    very informative…I needed to know this as I did not understand the historical background of our presidents actions.

  5. Natalie Harmening   January 15, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Excellent commentary on the implications of Obama’s use of executive orders. Purporting to have a mandate from the people does not provide legitimacy to executive orders that further his agenda contrary to enacted legislation. However, if Congress remains silent after the issue of any Obama executive order, then they will be signalling their own lack of power.

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