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Fri, February 14, 2014

Commentary: U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Year of Action or Overreaction?  A Guest Commentary by U. S. Senator Chuck Grassley.


During his State of the Union address, the President said that success is limited only by the “strength of our work ethic and scope of our dreams.”  By pointing out “the son of a barkeep is Speaker of the House,” the President identified a unifying principle in which 535 lawmakers and the President can agree.  America is the land of opportunity.  Americans enjoy an inherent right to work for their own success and keep the lion’s share of what they’ve earned.

To allow space for a thriving economy and civil society in which Americans can pursue their own dreams, the nation’s founders enshrined principles of self-governance in the U.S. Constitution that created separation of powers among three branches of government.  The people’s branch makes the laws.  The executive branch enforces the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws.

That’s why it’s alarming to hear the President report to America that he will bypass Congress when he sees fit.  It appears he’s prepared to circumvent the Constitution and ignore our system of checks and balances.  Armed with his phone and a pen, the President has signaled he will unilaterally evade the will of the people as expressed through one of the co-equal branches of government.  Considering steps already taken by this Administration in the last year, it is cause for concern when the President says that 2014 will be a “year of action.”

Keep in mind where the Obama administration already has taken liberties with its interpretation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress:

Advice and Consent.  The Supreme Court in January heard oral arguments to determine whether President Obama overstepped a constitutional boundary by appointing nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.  The President claimed the Senate was in recess, unable to provide advice and consent.  However, the Senate was holding pro forma sessions, not adjourned in recess.

Controlled Substances Act.  The Obama Administration sent a dangerous, mixed signal to youth and local law enforcement across America when the Department of Justice announced it would not prioritize the prosecution of the large-scale trafficking and sale of marijuana. The Controlled Substances Act criminalizes the cultivation, trafficking, sale and use of marijuana. I’m hearing from Iowa law enforcement of a troubling increased presence of marijuana stemming from Colorado’s legalization of medical marijuana.  With full legalization now in effect, this problem is likely to worsen.  As co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I agree with a top official at the Drug Enforcement Administration who testified that efforts to legalize marijuana are “reckless and irresponsible.”  Marijuana is widely recognized as a gateway drug to other illicit, lethal drugs.  Considering the implications to local law enforcement, public health and traffic safety, the Justice Department’s “wink and a nod” approach to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act is more than disappointing.

Affordable Care Act.  The Administration’s signature health care law had a miserable debut in October with the rollout of HealthCare.gov.  Aside from on-going sign-up snafus, the President has enforced the Affordable Care Act as with the help of a roulette wheel, picking and choosing which mandates, waivers, penalties and fees to enforce.  It’s a gamble the nation’s recovering economy and growing national debt cannot afford.  Everyone agrees the Affordable Care Act has systemic flaws.  Now the President is using his pen to re-write the law without congressional consent.  It sure would be helpful if the President also had a magic wand up his sleeve.  He could use it to jump-start economic growth since productivity will drop over the next decade when as many as 2.5 million workers drop out of the workforce due to the new disincentive to work created by the Affordable Care Act, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.  When people exit the workforce, it’s bad for economic growth.

So much for the President’s call for a “year of action.”  The Administration is on track for a year of overreaction.  Overstepping constitutional limits or enforcing laws for political convenience sow bad seeds into our system of self-government.  If allowed to take root, their growth would have a corrosive effect on the people’s right to be heard through their elected representatives.

Centralizing power into the executive branch renders the commander-in-chief the only arbiter of the public good.  Therein lies the rub.  Limited government, separated into three branches, protects the individual rights of citizens.  Each branch has constitutional oversight authority to prevent overgrowth of one branch over the other on America’s tree of freedom and liberty.

It’s time for a reality check.  In keeping with the President’s stated commitment to unprecedented levels of openness and transparency, I’ve written to the U.S. Attorney General to direct the Department of Justice to publicly disclose its legal analyses of all executive orders by the President.  Since passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Attorney General has been authorized to render opinions on matters of law and issues of constitutionality.

The American people and Congress ought to know if the President’s executive orders have withstood rigorous constitutional review.  If the President can’t persuade the people’s branch on the merit of his ideas, the American people have a right to know if his ideas are being implemented in a way that is consistent with the Constitution.

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