In the wake of the stuff and nonsense and media hysteria that was the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and “deal,” reasonable people have every right to hope common sense and adult behavior will prevail as we move into the 113th Congress. However, two episodes developing as I type this are disturbing to me: President Obama appears to be at least considering political edits to the Constitution, and Congress has wasted no time returning to its schizophrenic behavior and statements and spending and deficit reduction.
That President Obama is even considering some form of enhanced national gun control, not through congressional action and White House reaction – we in DC call it “due process” – but rather through executive order gives even greater credence to what the Wall Street Journal dubbed this “imperial presidency.” To be clear, my concern has very little to do with gun control and everything to do with the sanctity of the Constitution as it limits powers and provides for checks and balances.
While every president has no doubt wished he could solve a problem by fiat rather than through the process of due consideration, i.e. Congress, the Administration and, if it comes to that, the Supreme Court, to actually consider manipulating the Second Amendment is at best ill-conceived and for the President, ill-advised. It also makes perfectly understandable the question many are asking, namely, “If the Second Amendment can be manipulated through executive order, what about the First Amendment and free speech or the Fourth Amendment and protections against unlawful search and seizure?
Executive orders normally set up commissions, clarify personnel matters, set policy within strict limits or remove remnants of the previous administration’s overreach. A first hint of this new approach came when the President, again through executive order, essentially implemented a big chunk of the so-called Dream Act, legislation that would have provided deportation protection for some children of illegal immigrants as long as those children were pursuing higher education or actively serving in the military. The President reinvented the federal immigration enforcement and deportation systems to provide protections for the children of illegal immigrants despite the same program being rejected by Congress three times in two different sessions.
If the White House has rejected this strategy, it should say so loudly, clearly and immediately.
The second situation – that of congress saying one thing and doing another – doesn’t necessarily shock observers. The case in point, however, is the ever-morphing, ever-expanding Superstorm Sandy disaster relief legislation, what many are calling the return to good, old fashioned pork barrel legislation, and just when we thought Congress had learned its lesson.
While New York and New Jersey politicians went ballistic when House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) did not take up the over $60 billion in spending when the 112th Congress adjourned, the bill was split into at least two legislative packages when the 113th Congress convened. The first portion, a near-$10-billion expansion of federal flood insurance borrowing authority requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was approved quickly and signed by the President. The remaining $50 billion is the problem. In the original Senate bill – which Senate Majority Harry Reid says may be voted on around January 15, fiscal conservatives in both chambers argue the bill carries too many programs and spends too much on issues not related to natural disasters, including money for salmon fisheries in Alaska and a series of “incentive projects,” what one Republican Senator called “gimmes” designed to get GOP votes. The House may split the package yet again, voting on $18-25 billion for immediate recovery needs – expected to pass and including more dollars for FEMA’s emergency disaster relief fund – and then take up a $33-billion package of long-term “mitigation projects” so that areas can better withstand future storms. This latter package has a very iffy future because it’s likely to contain more and more spending with nothing to do with disaster assistance and everything to do handing out pork barrel projects.
Save for our friends on the Hill evangelizing against such wanton spending, did not at least leadership learn anything from the last two elections? Why are members of Congress paying lipservice to fiscal restraint and deficit reduction while loading up a much-needed disaster bill with expensive projects they know have no chance of congressional approval if considered on their own? Votes should be won on the merit of the bill, not on the size of the federal dollar give-away.
Each situation is by any definition a reach way too far.