Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush was castigated by congressional Democrats for his willingness to enlarge the executive power. Then-Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, for example, called him "King George Bush." The same chorus of critics has transformed into a cheerleading squad for President Obama's expansion of presidential authority.
As president, Mr. Bush was not shy about using signing statements to narrow the scope of a newly enacted statute. As a candidate in 2008, Mr. Obama blasted the practice, saying, "Congress' job is to pass legislation. The president can veto it, or he can sign it. But what George Bush has been trying to do is part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency. He's been saying, 'Well, I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying, I don't agree with this part or I don't agree with that part. I'm going to choose to interpret it this way or that way.'" Now that he's in charge, Mr. Obama has embraced the tactic, issuing 21 signing statements of his own.
President Bush made recess appointments while Congress was out of session. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said using this constitutional process to put a controversial nominee in place was wrong and that "the American people deserve better." In January 2012, Mr. Obama entirely circumvented Senate confirmation with the appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the addition of three members to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was still in session. Mrs. Pelosi issued a statement celebrating the power grab, saying, "I commend this strong action by President Obama."
When Congress failed to enact the controversial Dream Act immigration reform bill as the administration desired, the White House decided to go it alone. A June 2011 directive from the Department of Homeland Security ordered field offices to use "prosecutorial discretion" to avoid taking action against illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria. It's not amnesty, but it's awfully close. Such a sweeping change in national policy should be made through the full legislative process involving the House, the Senate, the president and, ultimately, the public.
It is in this context that Mr. Obama seeks to undermine the Second Amendment through a new set of executive actions he will announce Thursday. When a Republican is in office, Democrats are appalled at the usurpation of authority. When one of their own occupies the White House, Democratic leaders say, "Just go do it." That's an unfortunate response to a dangerous trend. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 47: "The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
For the separation of powers to have any meaning, Congress must defend its constitutional prerogatives, regardless of which political party happens to hold executive sway. It's far more important to preserve our system of checks and balances than to achieve some short-term political gain.
The Washington Times
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