The moves underscore Obama’s increasingly aggressive use of executive authority, including 23 administrative actions on gun violence last month and previous orders that delayed deportations of young illegal immigrants and will lower student loan payments.
These and other potential actions suggest that Obama is likely to rely heavily on executive powers to set domestic policy in his second term. One White House official said that while the president does not see the actions as substitutes for more substantial legislation, he also wants to move forward on top priorities.
But the approach risks angering Republican lawmakers in Congress, who say they are leery of granting the executive branch too much power and have already clashed with Obama over the issue. In a ruling last month, a federal appeals court said Obama exceeded his constitutional powers in naming several people to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was on a break.
“It is a very dangerous road he’s going down contrary to the spirit of the Constitution,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent interview. “Just because Congress doesn’t act doesn’t mean the president has a right to act.”
The administration declined to provide details on timing of the possible actions; one White House official said the moves to boost housing, retrofit buildings, offer same-sex protections or issue new environmental rules were not imminent. Obama may touch on some of the actions in broad terms during his State of the Union address Tuesday, but he is unlikely to lay them out in detail.
One of the more significant moves under consideration is in housing. Obama is weighing whether to use his executive authority to give more of the country’s nearly 11 million struggling homeowners a chance to refinance at today’s ultra-low interest rates, according to the Treasury Department and others in talks with the administration on the issue.
Obama already has used his executive powers to make refinancing easier for people with loans backed by government-financed mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the new plan could extend the opportunity to people who are underwater on their privately backed mortgages, which have not been eligible for the same relief.
The plan, if adopted, would likely be aimed at homeowners who have otherwise kept up with their mortgage payments but have been unable to refinance because the loan against their home exceeds its depressed value. Many Republicans in Congress have balked at the idea amid concerns over the cost to taxpayers.