On Saturday at Fox News Channel, Jim Pinkerton and I debated about whether there is presidential overreach and too much use of executive power. This is after the House of Representatives voted on a bill to sue President Obama on his delaying a part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The bill was pretty much along party lines with some Republicans voting no only because they believed the president should have an impeachment trial.
It takes some nerve for the Republicans to talk about presidential overreach, as there certainly has been recent history of Republican (and Democrats, too) presidents going overboard with war powers and signing statements.
According to the website CoherentBabble.com President George W. Bush issued “issued 161 signing statements challenging over 1,100 provisions.” These are often the president’s view of how he will enact and carry out the provision of the law.
Coherentbabble.com also calculated the signing statements President Obama has signed. It says, “From his inauguration through April 18, 2014, President Obama has issued 27 signing statements affecting 97 specified provisions and making six mentions of unspecified provisions of law in 26 Congressional enactments.”
There wasn’t much pushback from Republicans on President Bush’s signing statements, although many on the left decried what they considered an end run around congressional made law.
There are other examples of Executive Branch overreach, and the ability to declare war is certainly one of them. The War Powers Act was passed in 1973. It provides specific instructions for notification of Congress when the president calls up troops and also regulates the length of stay of such troops without a specific declaration of war. One of the most notable challenges was in the first President Bush’s administration, and the lawsuit was brought by Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif. It was during the first Iraq war (1990), and the courts found that this could not go through, as there was not a vote for it by the majority of members of Congress. There was another challenge to President Clinton’s authority to engage the military during the “war” in Kosovo. So, we have certainly seen a challenge to executive authority.
We are not, though, currently at war. The president is acting in a way that he considers constitutional. Perhaps, the Republicans who voted to sue the president have a point. However, they must look at the broader issues at stake – the survival of the United States as a competent and competitive country.
I am on my way to Poland as I write this. Poland had several partitions (three or four, depending on the definition and the historian), and some believe it is because its legislative body was involved in too much infighting that made it ripe for the picking (and partitioning.)
Abraham Lincoln addressed this problem in his famous “house divided” speech. Borrowing from the New Testament, presidential candidate Lincoln said, “We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”
Some in Lincoln’s party thought the speech was too radical, but he had a major point. You can’t have a divided government, one that does nothing, accomplishes nothing and allows huge divisions to stand.
With regard to Congress, President Obama said Friday, “Now, it’s good that Congress was able to pass legislation to strengthen the VA. … It’s good that Congress was able to at least fund transportation projects for a few more months before leaving town – although it falls far short of the kind of infrastructure effort that we need that would actually accelerate the economy. But for the most part, the big-ticket items, the things that would really make a difference in the lives of middle-class families, those things just are not getting done.”
Are we dealing with something as divisive as slavery? No, but not taking care of working Americans will divide us.
Suing the president accomplishes nothing except to further make contentious politics. It does not move us forward.
Congress not compromising and doing its job could further divide our country. Like Poland 200 years ago, these inactions and movements to sue could leave us open to outsiders. None of this is good.
We are at a precipice and as the Bible and President Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It is time to begin thinking of all of us, if we want a strong, workable country, not just our respective parties and politics.
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact email@example.com.