(Daily Beast) -- With Congress paralyzed, President Obama has promised to use his “pen and phone” to overcome the ongoing dysfunction and get some work done. And the White House has already acted several times to help improve America’s economy. But such policies, no matter how valuable, will achieve little if we do not fix our broken democracy.
Allow me to suggest some ideas for how the president can do just that.
First, some historical context. Presidents have long acted within their authority, from Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana without consulting Congress to Lincoln’s freeing the slaves by proclamation. In recent decades, at a time of divided government, presidents have found ways to act in the arena of domestic and social policy. As a young Harvard professor, Elena Kagan identified President Reagan as the pioneer of the current trend. President Clinton extended the president’s role as originator of creative executive policymaking. As Clinton’s chief speechwriter, I was deeply involved in his administration’s executive action program, which used tools creatively to catalyze major policy change. All those announcements in the Rose Garden, from school uniforms to tobacco regulation? Those were executive action, designed to call attention to an issue, prod Congress, or achieve results. We even tried to enact campaign finance reform by executive agency action. The plan fizzled, but helped keep the issue alive—and built momentum that eventually led to the McCain-Feingold law. President Bush did the same thing.
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