Executive Overreach is Nothing New, But Still Concerning [Hub Debate]

Executive overreach is nothing new, but still concerning [Hub Debate]
November 6, 1986: President Ronald Reagan signs the Immigration Reform and Control Act
Will the President take executive action on immigration or other policies in his remaining two years in office? But more importantly, should he and what will be the effect if he does?


Almost since the beginning of the nation, Presidents have been testing what they can and cannot get away with. Jefferson had the Louisiana Purchase. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Franklin D. Roosevelt sent anyone of Japanese ancestry to prison camps without a trial. It would be impossible to list all of the times where Presidents have created new authority absent Congressional action, but it is possible, nay, required to say that such actions should be viewed with suspicion and an eye to the future.

Consider that President Obama is currently seeking to take executive action without Congress on immigration and environmental controls. Supporters of such policy changes will almost gleefully point to examples from Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush where they used (or, in my opinion, abused) the power to set administrative policy to override laws passed by Congress. Those Presidents, no doubt, relied on precedent themselves to justify their own actions. In almost all cases, it is a short-sighted policy of “I’ll get what I want now and complain about the abuses later when the other guy does it”. It’s crass partisanship at its worst.

Inevitably, past administrations who push the boundaries will enable the very worst in their successors. President Obama, for instance, has not only perpetuated the wholesale spying and international militarism of President Bush, he has escalated it to beyond what even the critics of the time envisioned. Unfortunately, those would be in a good position to demand a scaling back of executive authority find themselves amnesiac to having either deriding or defending the same actions less than a decade ago for entirely partisan reasons. Those who find themselves now defending the use of executive authority will, no doubt, be on the critic’s side when the party label changes.

This is, of course, the core of the executive power problem. Once you let one person get away with it, unchecked, the next guy figures he can push it just a little further. And then the next guy a little further. And before long, you have a Congress that is merely advisory with no de facto power to check an executive branch that has grown to over 2M employees consuming trillions of dollars. That kind of vast power could corrupt a saint, much less the kind of person who needs to make compromises to get into the office in the first place.

No matter whose name is on the door and no matter what party label is attached to it, we should be seeking ways to prevent the executive from acting without Congress, not expanding the ways in which it can and does. Doing otherwise is inviting more bad behavior down the road.

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