Opinion: Obama doesn’t wait for Congress to act

August 17, 2013


— As a reaction to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, many federal drug laws carry strict mandatory sentences. This has stirred unease in Congress and sparked a bipartisan effort to revise and relax some of the more draconian laws.

Traditionally — meaning before Barack Obama — that’s how laws were changed: We have a problem, we hold hearings, we find some new arrangement, ratified by Congress and signed by the president.

That was then. On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, a liberal in a hurry, ordered all U.S. attorneys to simply stop charging nonviolent, non-gang-related drug defendants with crimes that, while fitting the offense, carry mandatory sentences. Find some lesser, non-triggering charge. How might you do that? Withhold evidence — e.g., about the amount of dope involved.

In other words, evade the law, by deceiving the court if necessary. “If the companies that I represent in federal criminal cases” did that, said former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger, “they could be charged with a felony.”

But such niceties must not stand in the way of an administration’s agenda. Indeed, the very next day, it was revealed that the administration had unilaterally waived Obamacare’s cap on a patient’s annual out-of-pocket expenses — a one-year exemption for selected health insurers that is nowhere permitted in the law. It was simply decreed by an obscure Labor Department regulation.

Which followed a presidentially directed 70-plus percent subsidy for the insurance premiums paid by congressmen and their personal staffs — under a law that denies subsidies for anyone that well-off.

Which came just a month after the administration’s equally lawless suspension of one of the cornerstones of Obamacare: the employer mandate.

Which followed hundreds of Obamacare waivers granted by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to selected businesses, unions and other well-lobbied, very special interests.

Nor is this kind of rule-by-decree restricted to health care. In 2012, the immigration service was ordered to cease proceedings against young illegal immigrants brought here as children. Congress had refused to pass such a law (the DREAM Act) just 18 months earlier. Obama himself had repeatedly said that the Constitution forbade him from enacting it without Congress. But with the fast approach of an election that could hinge on the Hispanic vote, Obama did exactly that. Unilaterally.

The point is not what you think about the merits of the DREAM Act. Or of mandatory drug sentences. Or of subsidizing health care premiums for $175,000-a-year members of Congress. Or even whether you think governors should be allowed to weaken the work requirements for welfare recipients — an authority the administration granted last year in clear violation of section 407 of the landmark Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform of 1996.

The point is whether a president, charged with faithfully executing the laws that Congress enacts, may create, ignore, suspend and/or amend the law at will. Presidents are arguably permitted to refuse to enforce laws they consider unconstitutional (the basis for so many of George W. Bush’s so-called signing statements). But presidents are forbidden from doing so for reason of mere policy — the reason for every Obama violation listed above. 

Such gross executive usurpation disdains the Constitution. It mocks the separation of powers. And most consequentially, it introduces a fatal instability into law itself. If the law is not what is plainly written, but is whatever the president and his agents decide, what’s left of the law?

What’s the point of the whole legislative process — of crafting various provisions through give-and-take negotiation — if you cannot rely on the fixity of the final product, on the assurance that the provisions bargained for by both sides will be carried out?

Consider immigration reform. The essence of any deal would be legalization in return for strict border enforcement. If some such legislative compromise is struck, what confidence can anyone have in it — if the president can unilaterally alter what he signs?

Yet this president is not only untroubled by what he’s doing, but open and rather proud. As he tells cheering crowds on his never-ending campaign-style tours: I am going to do X — and I’m not going to wait for Congress.

That’s caudillo talk. That’s banana republic stuff. In this country, the president is required to win the consent of Congress first.

At stake is not some constitutional curlicue. At stake is whether the laws are the law. And whether presidents get to write their own.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


SinoHawk 4 years, 3 months ago

This is certainly a well-written and damning indictment of the Obama administration. Whatever one thinks of the individual ends (i.e. are the changes themselves good ones), the means certainly are terrifying for a country supposedly ruled by laws. If President Obama is comfortable going it on his own when it is too troublesome to go through Congress, what is to stop the next President from doing the same? Imagine if the next Potus decided that certain companies were exempt from securities laws, or that certain groups of individuals were exempt from certain laws?

Nixon made a terrible mistake in ordering the plumbers to break into the Watergate. Instead, he should have merely exempted the plumbers from rules on theft and exempted his own campaign from from election laws! /sarcasm

jhawkinsf 4 years, 3 months ago

Something fishy about 8 thumbs up and not a single comment to either support your letter or refute it's content. You don't happen to have 8 different accounts, do you, each able to indicate one thumb up?

Dan Blomgren 4 years, 3 months ago

What worries me is how do we stop him from continuing to circumvent the law? Why has no one stepped up and said "Wait! You can't do that!" And if Obama is getting away with this we are on a slippery slope. What will the next president try? What Obama is doing to damage this country is serious and no one is even trying to stop him. Are we just going to let Obama ram his 'doctrines' down our throat for 3 more years with no opposition? God help us all!

ChuckFInster 4 years, 3 months ago

Penny, I believe stopping Obama is what the Republican party unfortunately is all about right now and probably will be for the next three years.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 3 months ago

Since the beginning of his administration, the repubs have tried to contain him and make him a one term president ( Mitch McConnell). But they failed. They failed because the country wants to move forward and the repubs are only worried about who is president. Lets rule the country and get things done. IF Obama has allowed things that are illegal, stop him, but that means the congress has to work together. Isn't that a novel idea?

Dan Blomgren 4 years, 3 months ago

I think it's assumed that a 'thumbs up' supports the authors claims.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

I love how CK blithely says it's fine for Bush to do something and terrible for Obama to do the same thing.

Why exactly is it fine for Bush to refuse to enforce laws he considers unconstitutional? The SC is tasked with that, not the president, just as the legislature is tasked with writing laws.

This is the kind of blatant partisan nonsense that is damaging our country.

SinoHawk 4 years, 3 months ago

A signing statement is used by a President when he SIGNS a law. Since there is no longer a line-item veto, the signing statement essentially a way to avoid vetoing a bill that POTUS mostly agrees with instead of vetoing it whole-cloth.

Obama is choosing to ignore and/or change existing law without legislative input or approval. These two actions are FAR different, IMHO.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago


Either way, the president is changing legislation that has been passed by Congress. If one thinks that's problematic, then it should be problematic regardless of who does it and/or why.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 3 months ago

I agree that this is hurting our country. More than we know. The anti-government elements in the Republican Party are getting more powerful.

It is a much different and less civil party than anything I have ever seen before.

Liberty275 4 years, 3 months ago

Presidents can to an extent rule by fiat. It is the job of the executive branch to prioritize what laws will be prosecuted. OTOH, rule by fiat is a poor strategy because the next president can simply change the policy.

I wouldn't worry too much about it. Krauthammer is just using this instance to advocate for his political ideology.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

That's what I'm saying.

But, I think it's a big problem right now, that people get selectively concerned about these issues in order to do that.

Liberty275 4 years, 3 months ago

Always expect ideologues to be selectively concerned and feign utter horror if it gains their party any advantage in politics. You should be proud of your species for having the intellectual capacity to develop such strategies.

Both sides are guilty. I always found it hilarious that the anti-war protests in Lawrence ended when Obama took the helm as president. What happened to chaining yourself to the recruiter's door to save "brown" over there people from our racist wars?

It works both ways, and so it becomes noise from the left and noise from the right. Sort of like Yoko Ono music.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm not, however, but instead very concerned about it, and the effects of increasing ideological attachment and the denial of reality in politics these days.

To some degree that's true, but there's plenty of opposition to Obama's foreign policy on the left - just listen to KKFI - 90.1FM. They've engaged in consistent, principled reporting on issues like civil liberties, abuse of power, national security, etc. for years, regardless of who's in power.

seebarginn 4 years, 3 months ago

Nor should the President wait for this Congress to act on these matters, since this Congress has proved itself incapable of and unwilling to act on anything, except when it sees an opportunity to undermine a President elected and reelected decisively. This Congress has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on stupid, symbolic votes against the Affordable Health Care Act, a constitutional, moderate, and fair law that seeks to reform the health insurance system. And, good for Attorney General Holder. This Ronald Reagan appointee--yes, Saint Ronald of the Republican Faith appointed Eric Holder to the judiciary way back in the "good ole days," friends--is still going strong, despite the cries of so many frustrated folks, calling for him to resign. No, Eric Holder and Barack Obama, they aren't going anywhere. They will continue doing their jobs, and doing them well, for the country that put them there. Sorry, Charlie!

SinoHawk 4 years, 3 months ago

Have you ever heard of Separation of Powers? Checks and Balances? If the executive is bound be neither, then we no longer live in a republic.

Congress is equally elected by the People, and the People's representatives (Congressmen/women) are entrusted with the creation of laws. THEY are the Legislative branch. If Congress is divided on an issue, which is common, then consensus needs to be built before a final bill is passed into law. Senators and Representatives serve terms of different lengths specifically so that they will be influenced differently by the political winds of the moment. Massive, structural changes to the US bureaucracy are meant to be difficult to enact by our government's very design.

ChuckFInster 4 years, 3 months ago

Typical S O P For Obama. If he fails the fault goes to congress because they did/didn't do X, should he be successful he did it because "Obama cares". This bit has been going on for the last 5 years, what's new.

ChuckFInster 4 years, 3 months ago

I love how the word hatred is so casually thrown around. Not agreeing with Obama does not make anyone a hater, racist, bigot.... so tell me ks_cynic exactly where on this thread is hatred being demonstrated

Dan Blomgren 4 years, 3 months ago

So then Kansas you agree with Obama's actions? Have you not read the Constitution of the United States?

Liberty275 4 years, 3 months ago

That isn't hatred. It's just Americans (I assume) that disagree with you, saying what they want to say.

homechanger 4 years, 3 months ago

Nice job with the race card there yeoman. But since you brought up the presidents color lets get it right. He is our first gray president. Equal parts black and white make the color gray

Dan Blomgren 4 years, 3 months ago

Reread his entire opinion. No where does he rip the president on a personal level. He only speaks of Obama's actions. And Yeoman just because you don't agree with him it doesn't make his point 'drivel'. Explain to me what part of his piece is inaccurate? His opinion is backed up by facts whereas yours is completely biased opinion based on suppositions.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

The problem is he thinks this sort of thing is fine if Bush does it, but a terrible problem if Obama does.

He even said so in this column.

When people think this way, it means they don't actually have a principled objection to how Obama is acting, but rather a problem with him personally for some reason.

ChuckFInster 4 years, 3 months ago

" Presidents are arguably permitted to refuse to enforce laws they consider unconstitutional (the basis for so many of George W. Bush’s so-called signing statements). But presidents are forbidden from doing so for reason of mere policy — the reason for every Obama violation listed above".

Just guessing this is what you are talking about. Tell me Jafs where does this say Mr K agrees with Bush ?

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

It's not that hard to find.

"Presidents are arguably permitted" for Bush, and "forbidden" for Obama.

Why the double standard?

ChuckFInster 4 years, 3 months ago

Seriously ? You came to that conclusion from that ? Wow.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

If you can't see the bias there, it's because you don't want to.

ChuckFInster 4 years, 3 months ago

You're manufacturing your own reality, good luck

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 3 months ago

So the question regarding columns like Krauthammer comes down to motive. Why does he write this stuff?

What we know about Washington is that it has become overrun with money and lobbyists. It is hard to separate the facts from the spin. Krauthammer writes propaganda. It is not Journalism.

smileydog 4 years, 3 months ago

This regime goes above and beyond to keep the population comatose. Must have something to do with removing ALL of our freedoms.

costello 4 years, 3 months ago

"Attorney General Eric Holder, a liberal in a hurry"

That's so funny, because I heard a different conservative commentator from a group called Right on Crime saying yesterday that Holder was just now 'playing catch up' to where conservatives were five years ago or something like that.

Bob_Keeshan 4 years, 3 months ago

For eight years, Krauthammer wrote columns extolling the virtues of Dick Cheney's and Karl Rove's rapid expansion of the power of the executive branch. Indeed, it was Krauthammer who coined the phrase The Bush Doctrine and its complete and total takeover of foreign policy by the executive branch.

I wonder what made him change his opinion? I wonder what event occurring around November in 2016 might sway him back on the side of the executive branch?

nwtransplant 4 years, 3 months ago

The past has nothing to do with the present. The fact remains that this president is trying to take over our country, and decide by himself (and his unelected staff) what should happen in this country. I don't HATE anybody, but I am really disgusted with Obama and his supporters who believe he can do no wrong. None of the past Republican presidents were perfect and neither is Obama. I will vote Republican in 2016, even if Palin is running. She may not be the smartest person on the block, but we would agree on most things.

deec 4 years, 3 months ago

"The past has nothing to do with the present."

And in a nutshell, what's wrong with the world today.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

"The past has nothing to do with the present". What an odd idea. That means that people can simply approve of something if one president does it, then completely oppose it if the next one does the same thing, and somehow manage to ignore that cognitive dissonance.

I don't know any Obama supporters who believe he can do no wrong. They mostly believe he was a better choice than Romney or McCain.

Do you really think that the various criticisms (the reality based ones) of Obama don't apply to other presidents and politicians, but are somehow unique to him?

Bob_Keeshan 4 years, 3 months ago

The past has everything to do with the present.

What was the Reagan administration all about? It was about the expansion of the executive's power over the government. This was an idea first developed by the GOP right during Nixon's second term, first put into action during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and brought to full bear during the second Bush administration.

The Clinton administration, too, did nothing to roll back the concept. Why would they?

It is comical to see self-proclaimed Reagan republicans bash a powerful executive, in particular because pending the November 2016 results that same crowd will be calling for expanded executive power within the next four years.

msezdsit 4 years, 3 months ago

"Obama doesn’t wait for Congress to act" brilliant chuck

Typical Chuck statement. Congress doesn't act so how could he wait for them too.

smileydog 4 years, 3 months ago

Obama doesn't wait on Congress because he already knows what they're thinking....by reading their emails, listening in on phone conversations, reading the constituents emails and listening to their phone conversations and so on and so forth....he doesn't do it literally, he lets his henchmen or henchwomen do it for him.

jafs 4 years, 3 months ago

Some quick research shows that Bush issued hundreds of signing statements, and at last count Obama has issued 21.

I can virtually guarantee that CK wasn't at all concerned with Bush's use of signing statements.

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about, which makes no sense to me. If one is concerned about signing statements, and the possible abuse of presidential power, then one would be at least as concerned about Bush's as Obama's, given the vastly greater number of them.

Presidents have no authority to use signing statements as line item vetoes, and no authority to declare laws unconstitutional (that authority rests with the SC).

They can do one of three things - do nothing, in which case the bill becomes law after a certain time period, sign the bill, or veto it.

Armstrong 4 years, 3 months ago

Semi-interesting point jafs. You may or may not have also known Obama was quick to slam Bush over signing statements. Interesting to note however Obama has no issue using them.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 3 months ago

CK is a charter member of the ALEC Right Wing Party 24/7 character assassination platform where truth is irrelevant and damage is the objective.

CK is making things up as he goes along like Kris Kobach does.

Coming from the party that brings nightmares to the economy.

--- Did The GOP Deliberately Crash The Economy? http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/09/did-republicans-deliberately-crash-us-economy

--- Debunked The Harvard Study That The GOP Used to Push Austerity. http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/04/24/debunked-the-harvard-study-that-republicans-used-to-push-austerity/

--- Reagan/Bush Home Loan Fraud Fiasco by way of the Savings and Loan Industry

--- Bush/Cheney Home Loan Fraud Fiasco by way of America's Big Bank Industry

The list is nearly never ending and easily documented.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 3 months ago

It is true that CK makes stuff up. But in the party of God it's called 'Revelations' and CK is a prophet.

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