This morning, political commentators are paying a great deal of attention to one of the Los Angeles Times’ stories about Barack Obama’s plans for a Republican takeover of Congress. Unfortunately, they are focusing on the wrong one. Most commentators spent the morning quoting the president’s remarks on a black radio program that a GOP-dominated Congress will result in “hand-to-hand combat.” The reality is most of the action will take place behind their backs and over their heads. All indications are, if Obama cannot get his legislative agenda enacted by Congress, he will impose it by decree.
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The evidence comes buried elsewhere in today’s L.A. Times in a piece by Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons under the hum-drum headline, “Obama Reshapes Administration for a Fresh Strategy.” The story makes clear the “fresh strategy” borders on government by executive fiat. It begins, “As President Obama remakes his senior staff, he is also shaping a new approach for the second half of his term: to advance his agenda through executive actions he can take on his own, rather than pushing plans through an increasingly hostile Congress.” This rule by divine right of kings is confirmed by no less an Obama insider than David Axelrod, who said, “It’s fair to say that the next phase is going to be less about legislative action than it is about managing the change that we’ve brought.” The Times states candidly:
So the best arena for Obama to execute his plans may be his own branch of government. That means more executive orders, more use of the bully pulpit, and more deployment of his ample regulatory powers and the wide-ranging rulemaking authority of his Cabinet members. (Emphases added.)
Nicholas and Parsons note how the president has replaced the few appointees with ties to Capitol Hill in favor of Chicago insiders. They specifically state the “the Environmental Protection Agency is determined to use its regulatory power…to begin lowering [carbon] emissions, in the absence of congressional action.” In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, although the act did not have these “pollutants” in mind. Seizing on this ruling, an anonymous insider who “was not authorized to speak publicly” told the Times, “The ambition is to get a reasonable start” on implementing his extremist vision.
The plan fulfills a threat Obama made earlier this year. The Associated Press reported in June, “The Obama administration says it would prefer that Congress enact climate change legislation, but has used the threat of EPA regulations to goad lawmakers into action.” Within the last week, Congressional Republicans have called the regulations job-killers, and Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has sponsored a two-year freeze on certain EPA regulations. Now it looks as though the president will run roughshod over Rockefeller, the Republicans, and the will of the American people.
More concerning than the aims to which Obama plans to use unfettered executive fiat power is the circumvention of Congress, and the Constitution, in the first place. William Galston of the Brookings Institution took the LAT Obama will employ this strategy even if Republicans do not take back either House of Congress. “Whether or not the Republicans take over majorities in one or both houses, the margins will be so much narrower that the strategy of putting together a Democratic bill and picking off a handful of Republicans to push it over the top won’t be viable anymore,” he said.
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