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EDITORIAL: The malingering Congress empowers Obama

Feeble lawmakers and feckless judges to blame

- - Monday, March 3, 2014

It's easy to blame President Obama for dereliction of duty when he pulls out his pen to sign an executive order imposing sweeping environmental regulations or gun control without engaging Congress. A few senators and congressmen wave their fists, thinking (if not shouting) imprecations at the White House.

Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, makes a persuasive case that Congress and the rest of us have nobody to blame but themselves.

Mr. Turley is no conservative. In testimony last week to the House Judiciary Committee, he said he likes and supports many of the president's policies, but he's stunned by the extralegal means with which they're implemented — and how the president gets away with it.

"Recently," he said, "Congress has seemed feckless and uncertain as to its authority. It surprises me."

As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama said one of the country's problems was that "George Bush is trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all, and that's what I intend to reverse when I'm president of the United States of America."

Now that he sits behind the desk constructed of timbers of the HMS Resolute, a gift to the White House from Queen Victoria, Mr. Obama has changed his tune. He refuses to enforce federal law as written. He installs appointments to high office without waiting for the consent of the Senate. He has delayed implementing the most unpopular provisions of Obamacare until after the November elections.

Mr. Obama is not the first president to push the boundaries of the office. Franklin D. Roosevelt bent the Supreme Court to his will with a scheme to expand the Supreme Court and appointed enough justices to OK his agenda.

Since the Korean War, every president has not bothered to ask Congress for a declaration of war, as the Constitution requires. What's different now is scale. Under Mr. Obama, Congress is irrelevant.

"I am a typical Madisonian scholar," explained Mr. Turley. "I tend to view all branches as equal, but some more equal than others, and that would be the legislative branch ... it is the thumping heart of our system, and it has lost a great deal of power, and that power has largely been transferred to the executive branch."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has done everything in his power to expedite the destruction of the legislative branch by weakening the filibuster, one of the most potent tools a senator can employ. He ceded this important congressional prerogative merely to allow the president to install a few short-term appointees in the executive branch.

The weak and feckless connivers include Republicans, too. House Speaker John A. Boehner gave the president the ability to borrow indefinitely merely to avoid a conflict over the debt ceiling.

Courts are part of the problem, and have largely become rubber stamps for the White House and the Justice Department. Even Chief Justice John Roberts, who was thought to be the needed bulwark of the Constitution, reimagined the Obamacare law as a "tax" to uphold its constitutionality.

The secret FISA court has given the go-ahead to every National Security Agency request for more power to oppress, even signing a single warrant enabling the organization to snoop on millions of Americans.

Mr. Turley warns that Mr. Obama has gone too far. But how far is too far? And what can anyone do about it? Elections are coming.