Revealed: How the GOP plans to block Obama's executive branch power next year

This comes from TPM, which sounds oddly chagrined notwithstanding the left’s many dire warnings during the Bush years about checks and balances and Congress’s duty to prevent executive overreach.

The difference, presumably: Obama “means well.”

Republicans are all too aware of this conundrum, and have been looking for ways around it. What they found is an obscure authority provided by a 1996 law called the Congressional Review Act. It provides Congress with an expedited process by which to evaluate executive branch regulations, and then give the President a chance to agree or disagree.

House Republicans will have carte blanche next year, and will be able to pass as many of these “resolutions of disapproval” as they want. The key is that a small minority in the Senate can force votes on them as well, and they require only simple-majority support to pass. If they can find four conservative Democrats to vote with them on these resolutions, they can force Obama to serially veto politically potent measures to block unpopular regulations, and create a chilling effect on the federal agencies charged with writing them…

“They’re pushing through a lot of bad policy at the executive level,” [Jim] DeMint said. “We need to figure out how to rein it in.”…

“I think what they’re going to do is try to keep on dramatizing the issues that they think are helpful to them,” [Henry] Waxman said. “The next two years I expect all their actions to be campaign oriented…. They’re all about messaging, they’re all about power, they’re all about politics. What they don’t seem to be concerned about is governing.”

That’s an awfully shrill whine for a procedure as minor as the one described here. All they’re doing, really, is putting Obama through the same symbolic paces that Congress routinely goes through when it holds votes on politically charged amendments that are destined to fail. Case in point: The Pomeroy amendment to last week’s tax cuts bill. House members surely knew it was going down in flames before the roll was called, but progressives wanted to make a statement about the estate tax rate being too low. It was a pure political gesture to their base and undecideds, but that’s what happens sometimes when a congressional minority feels passionate about something. (Incidentally, per Waxman’s theory that the GOP isn’t interested in governing, the final tax cuts bill passed with an almost precisely equal number of Republican and Democratic votes.) The process described by TPM sounds like an interbranch version of that — Congress will essentially offer “amendments” to executive branch regs of which it disapproves and The One will be forced to vote those amendments down with vetoes. Yeah, it’s a gesture, but given that Obama is “studying how to maximize the power of the executive branch” as an end-around to gridlock in Congress, it’s an important one. Executive power and statist ambitions will be a major storyline over the next two years; if Obama wants to dispense with Congress in governing, he’ll have to put up with the inconvenience of people occasionally pointing that out. Boo hoo.

Exit question: Is Obama really the target of this maneuver? The first line of defense is the requirement of a simple majority in the Senate to send the resolution of disapproval to his desk in the first place, which means there are going to be some awfully tough votes for centrist Democrats like McCaskill and Tester who are up in 2012. If they stick with their caucus and vote no, the Republicans will hammer them in the general election for enabling an Obama power grab. If they defect and vote with the GOP, the left will go berserk in the primaries. If anything, I think this improves conservative odds of a pick-up in the Senate more so than in the White House.