With the 2012 presidential election almost here, President Barack Obama will finally find out whether or not he is keeping his job. For most voters, their choice will ultimately come down to how they expect either Romney or Obama to run things over the next four years. Throughout the campaign, Obama has repeatedly pointed out that Romney is a “flip-flopper” on a variety of key issues, and noted that Romney does not have a presidential record to give voters a clear sense of what they expect from a Romney presidency.
Unfortunately for Obama, he does have a presidential record, and a review of it leaves little doubt that Americans should fire him. Obama’s record reveals a pattern of contempt for the Constitution and existing law, the pursuit of deeply flawed economic policies, contempt for human rights and civil liberties, and a generally tired political song and dance.
At his inauguration, President Obama accepted a legal and moral responsibility to abide by the terms of laws and constitutional provisions that govern his behavior as president. Yet during Obama’s term, he has purposely directed his administration to stop enforcing existing laws, expanded enforcement of certain laws beyond what the law authorizes the president to do, stopped defending certain laws in court, and unilaterally implemented measures that circumvented Congress’s decisions to not pass legislation Obama favored. Charles Tiefer, a former House of Representatives lawyer and current University of Baltimore law professor, recently told Newsweek that Obama “isn’t just pushing the envelope, but in effect breaking out of the envelope.”
1. The Budget
The Federal government’s legal obligation to pass an annual budget is one of the most important, though most overlooked, parts of our country’s political and legal tradition. At its core, the federal budget is an impartial reflection of the federal government’s priorities. The budget provides a simple, easy way for voters to pass judgment on their government — noting the amount of resources that the government is devoting to various tasks provides a straight-forward, no-nonsense way for voters to determine how closely the government’s priorities mirror their own. The numbers are what they are, regardless of how the politicians try to spin them.
Yet President Obama is just a few months away from being the first President in American history to complete an entire term without signing into law a single budget. Of course, both houses of Congress need to pass one of Obama’s budget proposals for a budget to take effect, so it would be unfair to lay the entire blame at Obama’s feet. Yet Obama’s most recent budget proposal was so ridiculous, it generated almost unheard of levels of bipartisanship, with the House of Representatives voting against it 414-0, and Senate voting 99-0 against it. The senate, which Obama’s own party has controlled for his entire tenure as president, has not passed a budget in over three and a half years, and even though federal law requires Obama to submit an annual budget proposal to Congress on the first Monday in February, Obama has failed to do so in three of his four years. Obama’s continued calls for bipartisanship grow increasingly absurd as he continues to propose budgets that not a single U.S. legislator finds acceptable, and his exhortations in favor of greater transparency in government grow increasingly disingenuous as his government fails to do what might be the most transparent thing a government can do — passing a budget.
2. Waived Work Requirements for Welfare Recipients
In 1996, President Clinton signed an overhaul of federal welfare. The new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program included new work requirements for welfare recipients and carried a five-year lifetime maximum. For the next 15 years, the federal government enforced the law without major controversy, until President Obama authorized the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to waive the welfare law’s work requirements, despite the fact that the law does not authorize DHHS to issue such waivers. At no time since the law was passed in 1996 had the DHHS ever suggested that they had the power to waive the work requirements, and a recent report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office determined that the Obama administration’s failure to submit their policy changes to Congress for approval effectively circumvented federal law.
3. Halted Enforcement of Existing Immigration Law
For years, Republicans in Congress had been blocking passage of the DREAM Act, legislation that would offer amnesty to as many as 1.7 million child illegal immigrants. Regardless of anyone’s views on the bill itself, there is no doubt that Congressional Republicans were fully within their rights to block passage of a bill that they did not favor. Obama supported the bill, but spent most of 2011 telling supporters, “this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is not true.” But by June 2012, Obama changed his mind, ordering the Department of Justice to stop deporting the same young illegal immigrants that the DREAM Act would have affected.
4. Made “Recess Appointments” When the Senate Was Not in Recess
The U.S. Constitution requires the Senate to approve of presidential appointees to certain high-level positions before the appointee can begin work. The Constitution does, however, also allow for “recess appointments,” which allow the appointed individual to begin working pending the later approval of the Senate. The recess appointment power was an important way of making sure key posts were filled in the days when travel to and from Washington could take days or weeks, making it difficult for the Senate to meet urgently to approve a new nominee. More recently, Presidents have used the recess appointment power mostly as a political ploy to get around the requirement of gaining the Senate’s approval.
Though recess appointments these days are themselves generally an attempt to circumvent the Constitution, President Obama pushed the recess appointment power still further, announcing recess appointments while the Senate was not in recess, a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. Indeed —how can a recess appointment take place without a recess?
A number of Republican Senators have joined an existing lawsuit challenging the legality of these appointments. A final ruling is still pending. For most of American history, presidents have been able to find nominees for important positions that the Senate approves of, and there is no reason Obama cannot do the same.
5. Other Times Where Obama Seemed to Make, Change, or Ignore Existing Law
In February 2011, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder directed U.S. Attorneys to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, despite the fact that DOMA was legally on the books. In the spring of 2011, Obama directed the EPA to start implementing greenhouse gas regulations that mirrored regulations that the Senate was considering, telling the EPA simply to begin interpreting existing law differently. In September 2011, Obama issued states waivers from No Child Left Behind’s educational standards, and replaced them with his administration’s own standards, which Congress has not approved. The president is also required by law to submit an annual mid-session report to Congress no later than July 16, and an annual financial report to Congress every December 15, but he has not met either deadline a single time during his term.
At first glance, none of these incidents might seem like a big deal. Considered individually, none of this is the end of the world. But when considered together, there is no denying that they constitute a pattern of contempt for a system of laws that Obama is supposed to be in charge of enforcing, and is certainly supposed to be abiding by himself.
The Constitution makes it very clear that our government should rely on a system of checks and balances between the different branches of government — President Obama should not be able to freely circumvent the Senate’s power to approve his nominees, unilaterally decide to stop enforcing legally enacted laws, or direct his subordinates in the executive branch to twist existing regulations to meet a new interpretation that he would prefer. The degree of Obama’s contempt for the Constitution and for existing law is unprecedented. Sidney Milikis, a self-professed moderate Democrat and Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, recently said, “Obama is the first president to use his unilateral powers so routinely, especially in the domestic sphere.” No one person should have this much power — not even the President.
Just as no one let Bill Belichick get away with “misinterpreting the rules” in the NFL, the American people should stop letting Obama pull a fast one on them. Obama’s primary job duties are simple — enforce the law, follow it yourself, and vote yes or no on bills Congress passes.
In a legal system that relies on precedent — where, if something is legal once, it is legal moving forward — it is imperative that the American people stop Obama now, and return the presidency to its legally and constitutionally-limited foundation.