We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Executive Unilateralism on Health Care

12th October 2017

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A defining feature of Barack Obama’s presidency was the rise of executive unilateralism. Obama, frustrated with the procedural constraints that govern America’s government, took several executive actions on his own that amounted to legislation by presidential fiat. Some of these actions, like DACA and DAPA, were justified on the basis of prosecutorial discretion, while others, like certain financial and environmental regulations, were implemented via federal agencies. But in practice, these initiatives amounted to material changes to the law that were instituted without congressional approval. They amounted, in other words, to the President’s usurpation of Congress’s constitutional role. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of [my] acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said in 2014.

In addition to underlining the sclerotic laziness of Congress in this area, it also underlies the danger to democratic government of an executive branch that feels justified, on the basis of opinion polls or ideology, in doing an end-run around the Constitution. Franklin Roosevelt was a master of this technique, even with a highly subservient legislature at his beck and call.

Today, a different president is engaging in executive unilateralism of his own. Donald Trump will sign an executive order rolling back some of the health-care regulations imposed by the Affordable Care Act. “Since Congress can’t get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people — FAST,” he tweeted this morning. If that sounds familiar, it should: The president, whose agenda is constrained by the Constitution (and, arguably, the ongoing decay of our political institutions), is taking matters into his own hands.

How long will it take for proglodytes to realize that expanding the powers of government doesn’t always accrue to their benefit? They love it when Obama acts like Mussolini, but they have to wake up to the fact that there may be a Trump holding those reins of power. Will they take the hint? Probably not.

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