Much has been made in recent years about the abuse of presidential power. There is no shortage of recent examples to show that this is a legitimate concern. However, this is not entirely the fault of the current administration. Instead, the fault lies with the American people and the other branches of government that have failed to exercise constitutional checks and balances.
Interpretations of the Affordable Care Act have been regularly put forward that result in far more flexibility regarding implementation dates than the actual plain language of the law would allow. It has been shown that the Affordable Care Act was intentionally written so that only individuals buying health insurance through state-created exchanges would receive federal subsidies. Yet, the administration is ignoring the law, flowing subsidies through the federal exchange.
A more recent example of executive overreach is the new rule expanding authority of the Environmental Protection Agency over the waters of the United States to include almost any land where water puddles for significant time. The argument put forth by the EPA is that 117 million Americans are not protected by the Clean Water Act under current interpretations. But then, the Clean Water Act was never intended to encompass all waters in the country. It was aimed at cleaning up the big rivers and the Great Lakes, the navigable waters of the nation, to make it possible for fish to live in Lake Erie and to prevent chemicals in rivers from catching fire.
Today, some have an entirely new vision for what the EPA. They want it to save the world from man-caused global warming, which is still unproven. They want it to exercise power so as to prevent any chance of harm coming to anyone from any activity by mankind, especially petroleum production. Other than a few isolated situations and scary speculative stories, the new rule put forth by the EPA expanding its power is a solution in search of a problem. Major water pollution disasters are not happening in this country, and every state already regulates water purity and threats to it.
It would be easy to lay all the blame for executive overreach in the United States at the feet of the current administration, but this would be naïve. The blame equally belongs to the legislative and judicial branches. More fundamentally, the blame lies collectively with the people of the United States.
Since the Progressive Era, a presumption has prevailed in the collective mind of Americans that political and social salvation lies in the strong leader, or cadre of leaders, whose wisdom and breadth of knowledge, along with a supporting cast of experts, would best improve the lives of everyone. This attitude cuts across party lines and was reflected best in the administrations of both Roosevelts, Wilson’s presidency, and even the presidency of Herbert Hoover. It is now so commonplace that there is little use in differentiating presidencies since FDR except to say that President Reagan, who made some attempt to roll back the practical effects of the philosophy, was the exception.
With the idea that the central federal government actually manages the nation and has the power to create prosperity by doing anything more than smoothing the way for a market economy to prevail, Americans give license to government overreach. Congress, anxious to scratch the people’s collectivist itch, enables the executive by granting broad powers to interpret and implement vague laws that empower bureaucratic experts to do their will. The Supreme Court, heavily influenced by prevailing progressive philosophies, has allowed Congress to broadly delegate its legislative powers to the executive. The result is an executive branch that has become an example of nearly unchecked power.
Due to our form of government, we are not at risk of a rapid slide into totalitarianism like that of the German people in the 1930s, but we certainly seem to be getting close. A few more fallen checks and balances wherein a president is allowed to ignore the law with impunity could very well encourage a charismatic future president with dictatorial tendencies to ignore even more fundamental constitutional provisions, like the two-term limit. The current situation whereby individual members of congress determine whether a president is acting legally purely on the basis of partisanship, and the fact that a significant number of Americans apparently feel the same way, is good reason to quake for the future of the United States constitution.
Byron Schlomach earned his PhD in economics from Texas A&M University and has worked in the state public policy arena for over 20 years. He previously served as Chief Economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Goldwater Institute. Byron is now Director of State Policy at the 1889 Institute and Scholar in Residence at Oklahoma State University’s Free Enterprise Institute.
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