Recently, a bizarre scene unfolded on the floor of the House of Representatives that would have shocked the framers of the Constitution. In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced that he had decided to go it alone in areas where Congress refused to act to his satisfaction. In a system of shared powers, one would expect an outcry or at least stony silence when a president promised to circumvent the legislative branch. Instead, many senators and representatives erupted in rapturous applause; they seemed delighted at the notion of a president assuming unprecedented and unchecked powers at their expense.
Last week, Obama underlined what this means for our system: The administration unilaterally increased the transition time for individuals to obtain the level of insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act. There is no statutory authority for the change — simply the raw assertion of executive power.
The United States is at a constitutional tipping point: The rise of an uber presidency unchecked by the other two branches.
James Madison fashioned a government of three bodies locked in a synchronous orbit by their countervailing powers. The system of separation of powers was not created to protect the authority of each branch for its own sake. Rather, it is the primary protection of individual rights because it prevents the concentration of power in any one branch. In this sense, Obama is not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system; he has become the very danger that separation of powers was designed to avoid.
- The heart of the healthcare law was a set of minimum requirements for insurance plans. After Obama was embarrassed by the cancellations of millions of nonconforming plans (when he had said no one would lose a plan they had and liked), he created first one temporary exemption and then, last week, another, adding two years to the compliance deadline set by law.
- On his own authority, Obama also chose other dates for compliance with the employer mandate.
- Congress ended a subsidy for members of Congress and their staffs so that they would obtain insurance under the ACA on the same terms as other citizens. Obama ordered that the same subsidies would continue, in defiance of the law.
- He asked Congress to change the law to exempt certain classes of immigrants — particularly children — who are in the U.S. illegally from deportation. Congress refused to pass the so-called Dream Act, but Obama proceeded to order agencies to effectively guarantee the very same changes.
- The administration ordered all U.S. attorneys to stop prosecuting nonviolent drug crime defendants who would be subject to what Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. called draconian mandatory minimum sentences. The new rule effectively negates sentencing provisions set by Congress.
- Obama opposed the No Child Left Behind Act and in effect nullified it through waivers of his own making.
- For years, the Wire Act was interpreted to mean that Internet gambling was prohibited, which some states and businesses opposed. The Obama administration declared the act would now be treated as having the inverse meaning.
- Not even the power of the purse, which belongs exclusively to Congress, is sufficient to deter the White House. The Obama administration took $454 million from a fund established to help prevent illness and put the money instead toward paying for the federal health insurance exchange. Even leading Democratic members denounced this as “a violation of both the letter and spirit of this landmark law.”
- Watch this interview with Jonathan Turley on the Obama administration’s abuse of power: