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Monday, July 28, 2014

They're all in a huff over the president's executive orders

Time goes by quickly. We’re well into April, and there seems to be so much to do and so little time to do it. Except when you’re Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last week, commenting on Congress’s work, McConnell said that as far as he’s concerned, “this session is over until after the November elections.”

I know that Republicans can hardly wait to get to the polls this year, sensing that there’s blood in the water, and it belongs to Democrats. For their part, Democrats, worried about the impact of Obamacare and a variety of other issues, aren’t anxious to shut the place down until they have some better ideas about how to keep their Senate majority. So if you were the president, what would you do?

When Congress does nothing — and that’s happened many times — a frustrated president does the only thing he can do: start issuing executive orders. Under a law that Congress passed many years ago, presidents are allowed to make some of the rules, and they make them using executive orders. It isn’t some type of illegal activity. It’s all a president can do when Congress is in gridlock.

Executive orders aren’t some meaningless pieces of paper. Lyndon Johnson signed 325 of them, some outlawing discrimination in the workplace due to race, color, religion, sex or national origin. One of the more famous ones established the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy. President Nixon signed 346 such orders, making major changes in federal workplace rules with the stroke of a pen. Presidents have been using this lawmaking power as far back as George Washington, who set the precedent by issuing eight executive orders.

The all-time winner was Franklin D. Roosevelt, with 3,522. His closest competition was his fifth cousin Theodore, who changed policy and procedures with 1,081 orders. Should President Obama, faced with a do-nothing Congress, just crawl into the Lincoln bedroom and wait for further instructions from the likes of McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid?

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