- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

Despite signing an early flurry of major executive orders, President Obama has been restrained in wielding his White House power having produced fewer executive orders than all but one of his five recent predecessors.

Mr. Obama created a fiscal panel Thursday to tackle the nation’s staggering deficit problem when issuing his 43rd executive order - that’s 17 fewer than President George W. Bush signed in the same time frame and 29 fewer than President Carter.

But Mr. Obama’s use of executive power is likely to change now that Senate Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof majority and Republicans are expected to pick up seats in this fall’s midterm elections.

“It is easier to get what you want unilaterally than it is to work with Congress,” said Christopher S. Kelley, a professor at the Miami University of Ohio, who noted that President Clinton’s executive orders spiked after Republicans took control of Capitol Hill in 1994. “They tried to cut him off, but in the end the president has the prerogative to use them.”

Stepping in after Congress failed in its attempt to create a bipartisan deficit panel, Mr. Obama designated former Democratic White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson as heads of the 18-member commission. His order allows Democratic and Republican leaders to each appoint six members with the White House selecting the remaining six, up to four of whom can be Democrats.

The panel, whose findings are not binding for Congress, is charged with sending lawmakers a proposal for balancing the federal budget by 2015. Mr. Obama said everything’s on the table, be it spending cuts or tax increases. By contrast, Mr. Bush urged his 2001 commission on Social Security not to rely on payroll-tax increases.

The authority for executive orders comes from the president’s charge to take steps necessary to run the Executive Branch and see that laws are carried out. The majority of those are mundane housekeeping tasks, though some have become legendary: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, parts of Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Eisenhower’s order sending troops to Little Rock, Ark., to help integrate Central High School.

Mr. Obama’s 43 orders are considerably fewer than all but one of his recent predecessors.

Of recent presidents, only George H.W. Bush had fewer orders in the same time frame with 34, according to data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter issued 60 and 72, respectively.

Going even further back, President Nixon signed 59 orders by this time, President Kennedy signed 92 and President Eisenhower signed 87.

Gerhard Peters, co-founder of the American Presidency Project, pointed out that the first Mr. Bush was a Republican who served after a Republican.

“I can speculate that he felt less of a need to overturn actions of the previous administration because they’re ideologically similar,” said Mr. Peters. That, however, doesn’t explain Mr. Obama’s number, he said.

“I would expect to see maybe a slight increase in the number of executive orders where [Mr. Obama] can do it,” Mr. Peters added.

Initially, Mr. Obama signed orders at a record-setting pace, using the power in his first several months for major initiatives ranging from ending the use of harsh interrogation techniques to the government funding of stem-cell research. Since then, he has signed orders that include barring federal employees text-messaging while driving, increasing the threshold to classify information and authorizing reserve members of the armed forces to assist Haiti in earthquake relief efforts.

Mr. Bush’s early orders related to his faith-based initiative and unions. Mr. Clinton’s first orders paid special attention to the operations of government, creating advisory councils and cutting federal workers.

c Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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