Presidential Fiat or Congressional Neglect

Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash

Nowhere in the Constitution are executive orders mentioned. Yet they have become the way our presidents govern.

President Biden is doing exactly what his predecessor, Donald Trump, did. And it is the same thing that Barak Obama, George Bush, and every president since Woodrow Wilson has done. The 20th and 21st century presidencies have decided to govern, to some degree, by executive order instead of doing the hard work of convincing Congress to pass their legislation.

The presidency has become an elected dictatorship. The flawed Electoral College system has been one cause of this but not the precipitating factor in this occurring. These 4-year dictatorships are more corrosive and insidious than our unsound election process. They are the result of Congress not exercising its authority as outlined in the Constitution.

Congress’s weakness has resulted in our current all-powerful presidency. For the most part, Congress has justified its abdication and granting of so much authority to the president because of national security.

As an example, a president has a supposed trade beef with another nation. By invoking the phrase “national security,” he can levy a tariff against that country. Even if it is a staunch ally and neighbor such as Canada. If the president wants to build a wall between Mexico and the US with funds that have not been appropriated by Congress, then utter those words and the need for an appropriation be damned.

The enormous power that a president can use in this manner was not given to him by the Constitution. It was delegated to the executive by Congress passing legislation doing so for nearly the past 80 years. How ironic that I am decrying the absence of congressional bills at the same time blaming legislation for giving the president the authority to act unilaterally.

Over time, Congress has become more and more ideological while doing nothing to enact lasting policy in one direction or the other. In an earlier time, Obama’s deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear capability would need to be ratified by the Senate as a treaty. Because of opposition, he chose to make it an agreement…an agreement that Trump could easily cast aside, and that Biden wants the U.S. to be part of again. Agreements, like executive orders, do not need to be approved by Congress.

The Paris Agreement on climate change was not signed as a treaty with Senate ratification but by Obama’s executive action. Trump signed an order removing the U.S. from those accords and Biden, as one of his first acts, signed an executive order so we are now a participant again. For the past three administrations, the Senate has acted as a kibitzer in a gin rummy game instead of using its Constitutional authority to be the ultimate decider.

Congress has become big on being political but nowhere when it comes to policy and budgets. The 12 subcommittees of the House and Senate appropriations committees are charged with drafting bills funding the government. That would require hearings and compromise instead of grandstanding and playing to their respective bases who are becoming more and more narrow and extremist.

The way we have funded the government for most of the past 45 years is through continuing resolutions. Congress does not send up individual appropriations bills but rather omnibus bills that are thousands of pages with everything thrown in and presented with hours to go before a looming federal shutdown.

Power abhors a vacuum. That is the truest of adages. More and more often, our presidents accumulate the power that Congress refuses to exercise. When the executive has a respect for the beliefs of the Founders, there may be times when that elasticity of constitutionality may not be as harmful. The debacle of governance we just witnessed in the past administration is the result of an authoritarian incompetent and a Congress that refused to be constitutionally responsible.

The United States cannot survive under the democratic governing structure that the Framers gave us unless each branch of government plays its assigned role. In the Constitution, Congress was given the authority to be the foremost policy authority in the country. The president’s function was to carry out that policy. It wasn’t to make it.

If you want the national government to function as the U. S. Constitution was designed, then Congress must be held accountable. Their individual responsibility is not criticizing or casting barbs at each other or at the executive. Rather, it is to come together and make rules and policies. That requires compromise and an acceptance that our system is not “my way or the highway.”

Congress would have to understand and make policy instead of hold press conferences and denigrate. Many Congress people on both sides of the isle would be at a loss. I wonder if the country would buy into such a system? How about we give it a try?

Currently lives in Stuart Florida and former City Commissioner. His career has been as a commercial real estate owner, broker and manger in New York City.

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