Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State Of The Union Address: What's Up With Executive Action?

Obama prepared to avoid Congress, go it alone on carrying out modest initiatives. "For the first time since taking office, Obama spoke to Congresson Tuesday evening from a clear position of confrontation. The areas he identified for possible cooperation with a divided Congress have shrunk, leaving an agenda filled out by a growing number of modest initiatives that he intends to carry out alone...The tone and approach reflect the White House's conclusion that Obama spent too much time last year in conflict with recalcitrant lawmakers, rather than using the unilateral powers in his grasp...But the strategy risks further antagonizing Congress and resting part of his legacy on executive actions that do not have the permanence, or breadth, of major legislation." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

Key explainer: Here are 7 things Obama just said he'd do without CongressBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

The Republican critique of Obama's executive-action push. ""He's governing by edict," said Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.). Republicans concede Mr. Obama has the authority to do things like raise the minimum wage for employees at federal contractors. But Mr. McCain argues such moves poison the well of bipartisanship: "He has the authority, but it's the spirit of the Constitution that he is violating."" Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama ordered a raise in the minimum wage for government contract workers. "President Obama will announce in the State of the Union addressTuesday that he will use his executive power to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for workers on new government contracts, fulfilling a top demand by liberal lawmakers and groups, according to a White House document...A survey by the National Employment Law Project of contractors who manufacture military uniforms, provide food and janitorial services, and truck goods found that 75 percent of them earn less than $10 per hour. One in five was dependent on Medicaid for health care, and 14 percent used food stamps. Obama's action will only slowly trickle out into workers' paychecks, beginning in 2015 and at the start of new contracts." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

How can he do that? "President Obama would issue an executive order giving preference in awarding federal contracts to companies that pay their workers at least $10.10 per hour. The rules would only affect new contracts signed in 2015 or later (and not companies on existing contracts)...By some estimates, around 200,000 people -- though this would only happen gradually, over time, as new federal contracts get awarded. That's about 10 percent of the federal contracting workforce." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

We also got an executive action on education. "Obama talked about one such initiative on Thursday night. It's called "ConnectED"--a program to vastly increase the broadband access for public schools. The initiative is possible because funding comes from a small fee on cell phone bills, one that the FCC can set without congressional authorization. It's not much money to the typical consumer--the figure I've seen suggests it'd be no more than $12 per person over the course of three years. But that money can make a huge difference to the schools." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

The limits of executive authority. "[W]ith some notable exceptions, only so much can be delivered through the president's pen if he is not using it to sign legislation. He cannot raise the minimum wage for most workers, overhaul the Social Security system, grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, reorder spending and taxes, or even make necessary fixes to the health care law...At the same time, anyone who succeeds him can use the stroke of a pen to undo Mr. Obama's actions just as Mr. Obama did to some Bush-era policies one day after his inauguration in 2009." Carl Hulse in The New York Times.

Another drawback on executive actions. "Because executive orders are intended first and foremost to direct the conduct of the executive branch, they must be sensitive to diverse opinions and interests within the executive branch. Typically, the interagency consultation needed to produce executive orders is neither quick nor simple." William A. Galston in The Wall Street Journal.

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