Remember when the term “unitary executive” got thrown around a lot by the Left as a way to argue that the Bush administration thought itself above the law and above Congress? The criticism fundamentally misunderstood the phrase, but that didn’t keep progressives from arguing that a Republican President was making himself into a dictator through bureaucratic fiat. By golly, the Left — and especially the Center for American Progress, headed by John Podesta — didn’t cotton to the notion that a President could bypass Congress and the normal checks and balances of the federal government.
Those were the days, my friends, those were the days:
Former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff John Podesta, now the head of the Center for American Progress, called on President Obama to push forward with his agenda using federal agencies and executive branch power Tuesday, even though Democrats were dealt a blow in the recent midterm elections. Podesta said the American people want the president to move forward with his agenda.
“I think most of the conversation since the election has been about how President Obama adjusts to the new situation on Capitol Hill,” Podesta said. “While that’s an important conversation, it simply ignores the president’s ability to use all levels of his power and authority to move the country forward.”
Citing his experience in Clinton’s White House after the GOP House takeover of 1994, Podesta said Obama’s administration “can and should take” the specific measures detailed in a report released by the Center for American Progress, utilizing all the tools at its disposal to circumvent Congress in a way to keep his agenda moving forward.
“One of the best ways for the Obama administration to achieve results of that nature, in the short term, is through substantial executive authority to make and implement policy,” Podesta said. “As noted in the Constitution and the laws of the United States give the president the ability and the responsibility to act as the chief executive using authorities granted to all presidents such as executive orders, rule-makings, agency management and public-private partnerships.”
So when a President acts through executive orders in an area that the Constitution clearly leaves to the executive branch (prosecution of war), that’s a nascent dictatorship. When a President acts through EOs and tells executive-branch agencies to circumvent Congress in areas of its jurisdiction, well, that’s just “mov[ing] the country forward.” Good to know for future reference. Thanks, Mr. Podesta!
Not only is this a work of stunning hypocrisy, it’s a dangerous piece of political advice. Democrats had the field to themselves over the last two years and pushed their agenda over the objections of voters around the country. That arrogant disregard for the electorate is the reason why House Democrats will be voting for a Minority Leader today instead of a Speaker in January. If Obama takes Podesta’s advice and doubles down on arrogance and high-handedness after the voters sent Washington a split government in an overwhelming, historic wave, Democrats will likely lose the Senate and the White House in 2012 as well.
Besides, agencies without funding can’t do much to push anything forward. The House controls the budgets of these agencies. If push comes to shove, the only operations the EPA and the other agencies that receive those orders will fulfill are turning out the lights as the last person leaves the building.