Remember Congress? It’s the co-equal branch of government the Constitution established to guarantee the American people maintain control over their government.
Congress’ role was clearly defined by the Founders. It’s job is to introduce and pass bills and send them to the president to be signed into law, or vetoed.
The idea is to maintain a balance of power so that the authority of the executive branch doesn’t become tyrannical.
But Congress has not been seen or heard from much in the last few weeks while new President Joe Biden has moved rapidly to enact his agenda. He’s doing so without bothering to seek approval from the people’s representatives.
In his first two weeks, Biden issued 44 executive actions as of Wednesday, a presidential record that far outpaces his predecessors and significantly changes the direction of policy on issues ranging from energy to immigration.
Biden has doubled up Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who each had 20 actions in their first two weeks. George W. Bush had just five and Bill Clinton 11.
More significant are the number of executive orders Biden has signed. Twenty-eight of Biden’s actions have been orders that carry the force of law, and 10 have been presidential memorandums, which are treated similarly. The remainder were proclamations that are largely ceremonial.
Governing by executive order, as we’ve seen at the state level during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a highly efficient way for the executive branch to respond to an emergency.
But as we’ve also seen, it also leads to arbitrary policymaking that spares the executive the inconvenience of even trying to reach consensus with lawmakers.
In Michigan and other places, governors have justified their COVID executive orders under declared states of emergency as necessary to rapidly respond to the pandemic.
But no state of emergency has been declared at the federal level. There’s no justification for Biden to assume dictatorial powers rather than submit to regular order governing. That’s especially true since he enjoys a Congress controlled by his own party.
The Constitution doesn’t outline an authority for a president to issue executive actions not approved by Congress. So the rules for what can and can’t be done are murky.
Along with the affront to representative democracy, the orders, because they aren’t codified by Congress, also aren’t permanent. Orders issued by one president can be repealed by the next, as Biden has done with several of Trump’s actions, including his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, which Obama had joined without congressional approval.
Another action, the Reagan-era Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad, has been repealed or reinstated by the past five presidents.
The ping-ponging creates policy confusion and can catch innocent people in a trap, as with Trump’s repeal of Obama’s protections for immigrant children brought into the country illegally by their parents. Biden reversed Trump and reinstated Obama.
This is no way to run a republic.
Congress has been too passive in ceding power to presidents of their own party. With Democrats now in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, there is an opportunity to set clearly defined legal limits on how much a president can do with the stroke of a pen.
Those limits will serve Democrats well when it’s a Republican president who is putting Congress on the sidelines.
— THE DETROIT NEWS