It is rare that conservatives’ arguments over process gain traction. For conservatives, issues such federalism, the filibuster and, more generally, “the rule of law” are central to their self-identification. They all, in one way or another, contribute to limited government, which conservatives see as central to the preservation of liberty. For most non-ideological Americans, however, this is esoteric stuff and Republicans too often sound like players complaining about the calls when the outcome of the game is not going their way.
However, now and then an issue of procedure sticks. In the case of the serial Obamacare changes, widespread hostility toward the president’s amendments by executive whim is defying party identification and reaching many who generally support Obamacare’s goals.
The Post’s editorial board explains just how indefensible is the president’s “increasingly cavalier approach to picking and choosing how to enforce this law.” They warn Obama supporters: “Imagine how Democrats would respond if a President Rand Paul, say, moved into the White House in 2017 and announced he was going to put off provisions of Obamacare he thought might be too onerous to administer. … The law is also explicit that the government should be enforcing penalties already; that’s the plainest interpretation of Congress’s intent. The administration shouldn’t dismiss that without exceptionally good reason. Fear of a midterm shellacking doesn’t qualify as good reason.” (And it might even contribute to that shellacking.)
In a comment that reveals more about pundits than about Obamacare, Ron Fournier lets on that he can’t bear any longer to make up excuses for the White House. (Fournier has hardly been the worst offender; far too many have made covering for the president a virtual job requirement. Liberals may have ended JournoList, but the JournoList mentality remained.) Fournier rightly observes that the problem started with the passage of the bill: “The win-at-all-cost mentality helped create a culture in which a partisan-line vote was deemed sufficient for passing transcendent legislation. It spurred advisers to develop a dishonest talking point—’If you like your health plan, you’ll be able to keep your health plan.’ And political expediency led Obama to repeat the line, over and over and over again, when he knew, or should have known, it was false.” And it led liberals to excuse it all.
Kirsten Power echoed Fournier’s sentiments, bemoaning the fate of those “who have supported the law, who support universal health care, [who] are constantly put in the position of having to defend this president, who has really incompetently put this together, rolled it out.”
Illegitimate moves by the executive shouldn’t have to reek of politics to get the media’s or the Congress’s attention. And, come to think of it, Obama’s machinations have reeked for a good long time. The president, of course, previously made unilateral changes to Obamacare (including an earlier delay on the employer mandate), attempting to change the law by press conference and/or administrative edict from the Department of Health and Human Services. There was also the president’s unilateral revision of immigration laws to provide a stop gap to so-called Dreamers. Republicans also cried foul when the imperial president invoked bogus privileges to avoid investigation of Operation Fast & Furious and even of a White House party crasher.
Conservatives, who’ve been decrying the president’s behavior for years, should welcome the support from those who don’t agree with their objection to the substance of Obamacare. (Constitutionalism requires that you abide by the rules even when it doesn’t further your political aims.) Now it is essential to work toward a remedy.
With rare exceptions (e.g. recess appointments, which are now before the Supreme Court) Congress is unable to challenge the president’s actions in court. (Sen. Mike Lee provides a useful explanation of why this is.) The remedy for executive abuse of this type is twofold: Congress and the voters.
It would be wise for Democrats, while they still have the Senate, to clear away the president’s lawless fiats. They really don’t want to leave it to a GOP-controlled Senate and/or a GOP president to either mimic the behavior or enact far more sweeping fixes. Congress can correct the president’s overreach, either by passing legislation to concretize the president’s actions (as Republicans have actually offered to do) or to reverse them; alternatively, Congress has the power of the purse to defund agencies responsible for enforcing the laws that the president unilaterally changed.
Fortunately voters have an election coming up when they can weigh in as well. Which House and Senate candidates will act to end rampant lawlessness and which will look the other way? You would think all candidates running for election or reelection would understand their obligation to defend the prerogatives of the body in which they hope to sit. If they don’t intend for Congress to fulfill its constitutional obligations, they shouldn’t get the job. Voters can drive that point home.
This is what the president likes to call a “teachable moment.” When the press, political partisans and elected officials ignore the abuse of power because it is for a “good cause,” they encourage more and more abuse. The “good for the gander, good for the goose” realization, if nothing else, should convince Dems to rein in the White House. You’d think that simple fidelity to the Constitution would be enough, but at this point the motive is less important than ending the practice. I fear, however, that Obama’s noxious overreach will simply commence a downward spiral of power grabs in which each Congress and president attempts to rig the system its way, citing the other party’s precedent. Maybe, just maybe, if Democrats policed their own president, we’d nip this in the bud.