January 28, 2014

The Executive Order Branch

Obama yet again promises to turn to executive orders to govern without Congress.

Barack Obama plans to use tonight’s State of the Union address as a sort of reset to get his presidency back on track after a dismal 2013. The botched ObamaCare rollout, the IRS targeting scandal, and a host of other foreign and domestic setbacks, many of the White House’s own making, sapped the energy of the administration and squandered the post re-election bounce Obama hoped to use to push his agenda.

Now the president says he’s prepared to go it alone, and has threatened to enact his agenda unilaterally if Congress refuses to go along. No surprise, but Obama’s statement indicates that he hasn’t learned much from the overreach and blunders of last year. His senior staff somehow came to the conclusion that he was governing too much like a prime minister and plans for him to govern even more like a king. Maybe this former constitutional law professor could take a cue from our Constitution and actually govern like a president.

Senior adviser Dan Pfieffer lamented that the Obama team didn’t have a campaign to keep them focused in 2013, so expect the White House to return to full campaign mode going forward. This is unlikely to help improve Obama’s fortunes, however, as such a mentality is more likely to lead to a greater partisan divide with little opportunity for deal-making. But Obama is not a deal maker, so that probably suits him just fine.

The president will have an opportunity to test his new governing theory come February with the next debt ceiling crisis. Obama and congressional Democrats want a “clean” debt limit hike with no strings attached, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already signaled that it won’t happen. He would prefer to attach something to the hike that either approves the Keystone XL pipeline or otherwise positively addresses the nation’s fiscal problems. Democrats are betting that the political damage Republicans suffered over recent debt ceiling fights will keep them from pushing the issue, and they’re using America’s economic security as collateral.

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