The Daily Gamecock

Presidential power should be used sparingly

Executive orders don't align with country's democratic principles


Presidents have been expanding the power of the executive order — a rule created by the president himself — since the U.S. was founded. Unfortunately, since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, this process has been put into hyperdrive. As America heads toward another debt ceiling crisis, the president has said he would be more than willing to accept additional powers so he could set America’s debt limit without having to receive congressional approval.

If Obama were granted that power, it would not be the first time he has overstepped his executive rights granted by the Constitution. Just look back to the comments Obama made Monday explaining how he may just use an executive order instead of legislation to deal with guns. If you go back further, you’ll remember we went to war with Libya with no congressional approval, when the president made appointments for government positions with no senatorial approval, or even when he just stopped enforcing parts of U.S. immigration law and effectively rewrote it.

It is important to realize how executive powers have changed over time. Executive orders first started to morph under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he helped to change the way presidents thought of using this power. He did it by having Congress amend the language in the War Powers Act of 1917 to no longer exclude the American people. This amendment to the language gave the president the power to declare “national emergencies,” and then pass laws without the approval of Congress to “fix the emergency.” This newfound, almost dictatorlike power allowed FDR to put together his New Deal in record time.

The problem with executive orders is that they usurp Congress, essentially bypassing represented constituents. Also, they’re difficult for Congress to “check” because it requires Congress to pass a law against the executive order. However, the president usually ends up vetoing the new law, and the executive order stays in effect unless Congress overrules the veto with a two-thirds vote. This just doesn’t seem right in a country whose very existence is due to people who fought to break free from the grips of a king.

It’s one thing to use an executive order to clarify an existing law, but it is quite another to try and challenge the Constitution via executive order. However, some, like the United Kingdom’s newspaper The Guardian, believe the president should see how far the courts would let him go on executive orders concerning recent issues such as the debt crisis or gun control.

Unfortunately, the precedent set by an action like this can only lead to more and more power in the office of the executive. 

History, both distant and recent, repeatedly shows that giving more and more power to the man at the top ultimately does not turn out well. Think U.S.S.R., North Korea, China, Nazi Germany, Venezuela. Some may consider these extreme examples, but look how far the executive order has come on the precedent of FDR. Now, it appears President Obama plans to set the next precedent.


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