House Republicans Discover Limits of Executive Power

Last week the House of Representatives passed the Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law Act, of ENFORCE the Law Act (seriously, do they have someone whose job it is to come up with painfully ridiculous acronyms in Congress?). Jacob Sullum notes the hypocrisy:

While the bill’s name is ridiculous and its mechanism is dubious, the basic premise of its supporters, almost all of whom are Republicans, is correct: As the House Judiciary Committee’s report on the bill puts it, Obama has engaged in a “pattern of overstepping [his] constitutional bounds.” But so did his Republican predecessors—a fact the report seems designed to obscure.

“Although President Obama is not the first president to stretch his powers beyond their constitutional limits,” the committee’s Republican majority says, “executive overreach has accelerated at an alarming rate under his Administration.” That claim is hard to assess, since the report barely acknowledges prior presidents’ abuses.

And here’s the most absurd part: The bill makes virtually no mention of the vast growth of executive power that stems from the war on terror and other alleged national security concerns, which is the primary source of the problem.

Partisanship likewise helps explain why the committee report explicitly eschews discussion of presidential abuses justified in the name of national security. Those include some of Obama’s most troubling power grabs, such as routinely collecting innocent people’s phone records, going to war without congressional authorization, detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial, and killing people he unilaterally identifies as enemies of America. But as Bush showed, national security is a bipartisan excuse for ignoring the law.

Like fiscal responsibility, Republican concerns over executive power magically disappear when a Republican is in office only to appear again when a Democrat moves into the White House. The Democrats aren’t much better, unfortunately. What minimal resistance there was to the growth of the national security state when Bush was in power has diminished with the election of President Obama. Now that Dennis Kucinich is gone, only Ron Wyden puts up even token resistance. The party leaders, like Dianne Feinstein, manage to get their dander up over CIA spying on them but are more than happy to defend the CIA’s spying on everyone else.

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  • marcus

    Rat-fuckers Egotistically Pursuing Unintelligent Bullshit, Lies, and Ignorance. Cause? Assholes, Naturally.

    Makes as much sense…

  • Synfandel

    When the legislature automatically says “No” to everything the administration tries to do, should we be surprised that the executive uses every unilateral avenue at its disposal and even tries to push the envelope?

  • eric

    @2 – I don’t think that’s the problem. If anything, it’s the reverse – the legislative branch has said “yes” so much that the executive branch now has immense power, far beyond what the founders probably expected. That’s the historic trend. The GOP’s resistance to Obama may be a temporary reversal, but it doesn’t alter the hundred-year pattern of the legislature delegating to the executive things like war powers, spying powers, the power to incarcerate people without a trial, and so on.

    So I’d quibble a bit with Ed’s statement that the war on terror and resulting expansion of executive authority is the primary source of the problem. I think it’s much older and much more political: legislators increase their chances of reelection when the executive is seen as strong and effective, or (conversely) when the executive can be blamed for some screwup. Both factors incentivise legislators to hand over power to the executive. Doing so results in a political situation along the lines of “when you win, I win, but when you lose, I don’t lose – so its in my best interest to make you responsible for all the decisions.”

    The only way to break this cycle is to have an educated citizenry who can tell the difference between President and party, and who is willing to punish legislators (i.e. through non-relection) who cede authoritarian powers to the executive even when the executive is someone the voter likes. To use an example, Congressional Democrats will only object to Obama getting spying authority if they fear they will lose re-election by giving it to him.

  • zippythepinhead

    The examples cited in the Sullum’s article as part of this bill — various “unauthorized” tweaks to the ACA, appointments to the NLRB, selective enforcement of immigration and drug laws — may be viewed as attempts to make government and law enforcement work better for people. This is the real crime that Republicans want stopped, that government should ever be seen as helping the governed.

  • khms

    You know how with children, they often grow to exhibit whatever behavior their environment expects from them?

    Well, the same often works for politicians. If most voters think most politicians are crooks, then after a while most politicians will be crooks. (Of course, there usually will be outliers.)

    You’ve had a long time to educate them.

  • dingojack

    khms – “If most voters think most politicians are crooks, then after a while most politicians will be crooks.”

    Remember back in the old days (before Watergate, say) when the great unwashed public thought politicians were paragons of virtue – respectable, solid family men (and they were mainly men)? They wouldn’t have dreamt of doing anything corrupt or underhanded. They wouldn’t have ever created a all-powerful, non-accountable (supposedly) external spy agency say – oh no never!

    Now I’ve got you thinking in that vein, there’s a nice little bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy.



  • dingojack

    And how did politicians earn such an odious reputation? Could it be because of the all those cosy little back-handers, the ‘jobs for the boys’, the ‘mate’s rates’ deals and so on, back when they were supposed to be ‘dedicated, upright and hard-working public servants working for the greater good’?

    We would have never known what a bunch of slimy little shits they really were had it not been for the press bringing it to our attention and to the whistle-blowers who risked their careers (and sometimes their lives) passing information on to the press.

    (Long gone now. As usual: “power corrupts…”)

    🙁 Dingo

  • Phillip IV

    As the House Judiciary Committee’s report on the bill puts it, Obama has engaged in a “pattern of overstepping [his] constitutional bounds.” But so did his Republican predecessors—a fact the report seems designed to obscure.

    And the obvious remedy to presidents ignoring laws is passing a law to that effect? Is it just me or is there a slight logical problem inherent to that approach?

  • Chiroptera

    House Republicans Discover Limits of Executive Power

    And waddya know? Those limits just happen to occur at the boundary of Trying to Make Sure More People Have Access ot Affordable Health Care and at the edge of Not Going Out of Our Way to Make Life Miserable For Gay People.


  • Wylann

    Although being a Democrat is bad, I think this is once again a case of governing while black. That the Republicans will not stand!

  • This is just another demonstration of how Republicans do not accept the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency. Anything he does is overstepping his boundaries.