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BASTASCH: Obama has done more to circumvent Congress than Bush

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Could we be in the midst of an “imperial presidency”? That’s the question the Christian Science Monitor posed in a recent cover story.

It’s generally former President George W. Bush that gets hammered for overreaching his executive authority, but the CSM article lays out evidence showing that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond his predecessor.

While Bush and Obama have issued roughly the same number of executive orders in their first five years as president, the scope of Obama’s actions are more far-reaching than Bush’s.

“It’s really the character of the actions, and their subject,” Jonathan Turley, a constitutional scholar at George Washington University, told the CSM. “In my view, Obama has surpassed George W. Bush in the level of circumvention of Congress and the assertion of excessive presidential power. I don’t think it’s a close question.”

It during Bush’s tenure that legal scholar John Yoo advocated “Unitary executive theory,” which promotes a strong executive branch that is largely immune from interference from Congress.

Though the theory asserted a powerful presidency that had sole control over the military, it was not often exercised by Bush. He got congressional authorization for the two wars he fought, while Obama unilaterally waged war in Libya and has sent U.S. forces all over Africa. Bush promoted the unilateral executive, but Obama’s the one who has really taken advantage of it.

Bush did have his bad moments. He was hit by the media for using Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to bailout the auto industry, loaning more than $13 billion to Chrysler and General Motors without statutory authorization. Bush was also hit by the media for using his executive authority to create an office to promote “faith-based initiatives,” making it easier for religious organizations to get government funding for charitable activities.

There is no doubt that the scope of executive authority was greatly expanded under Bush, especially with the passage of the Patriot Act. But Obama has not done away with any of Bush’s expansions of executive power — if anything Obama has continued to expand the power of his office.

Many of the Obama’s most controversial moves have come from actions outside of executive orders — the traditional way the president asserts his authority. For example, Obama ordered federal agents to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” when dealing young illegal immigrants. This was done via memorandum, not an executive order.

It was through a memorandum that Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to issue carbon dioxide emissions limits for new and existing power plants. With the stroke of a pen he has effectively banned coal-fired power in the U.S. and sentenced hundreds of coal communities across the country to suffer economically.

“The elimination of coal as a fuel for new electric generation would have highly concerning implications for electricity prices and for the economy and job-creation in general, as well as the competitiveness of American manufacturing,” wrote 17 state attorneys general and one top state environmental regulator in a white paper.

Obama also issued a memorandum ordering federal agencies to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020 — a boon to the president’s environmentalist and green energy allies.

Obama has also unilaterally delayed the mandate for large employers to buy health care for their employees by one year. Just because the law is known as “Obamacare” doesn’t mean he has sole discretion over its implementation, critics argue.

And Obama continued the presidential signing statements, adding his own changes to bills as he signs them into law.

“Obama’s not interpreting the law; he’s changing the law. He’s changing deadlines that were the subject of intense legislative debate,” said Turley, who disclosed that he voted for Obama. “President Obama meets every definition of an imperial presidency. He is the president that Richard Nixon always wanted to be.”

Whether it’s climate, healthcare or immigration, Obama has bypassed Congress to implement major policy changes that affect million of people across the country. On climate issues alone, Obama’s actions will raise power prices and cause more layoffs as coal plants are retired. But despite the consequences, the White House shows no indication of slowing down.

“Any president who doesn’t take advantage of the unique powers of the presidency to move the country forward would be depriving himself or herself of the capacity to move it more forward and to grow the economy further and to create more jobs,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

With the arrival of former Clinton chief of staff and climate activist John Podesta, Obama is assuredly planning an aggressive push for his last three years in office. A chilling prospect for the industries Obama has targeted as part of his unilateral campaign.

“Since the Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections, [Podesta] has criticized the Obama White House for wasting time on legislation that won’t pass, instead of using executive authority to push the left’s agenda, which is incredible considering how far Obama has gone to abuse his authority,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center of Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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