Jacob Sullum

Last week the House of Representatives passed yet another bill with an awkward, acronym-enabling title: the Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law Act. The ENFORCE the Law Act (get it?) would allow either chamber of Congress to authorize litigation aimed at correcting the president's "failure to faithfully execute the laws."

While the bill's name is ridiculous and its mechanism is dubious, the basic premise of its supporters, almost all of whom are Republicans, is correct: As the House Judiciary Committee's report on the bill puts it, Obama has engaged in a "pattern of overstepping (his) constitutional bounds." But so did his Republican predecessor -- a fact the report seems designed to obscure.

"Although President Obama is not the first president to stretch his powers beyond their constitutional limits," the committee's Republican majority says, "executive overreach has accelerated at an alarming rate under his administration." That claim is hard to assess, because the report barely acknowledges prior presidents' abuses.

The Republicans' clearest examples of Obama's lawlessness relate to his amendment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Obama has delayed the requirement that employers provide government-approved medical coverage, allowed the continued sale of noncompliant health plans and extended "premium assistance" tax credits to people who obtain insurance through the federal exchange -- all without statutory authority.

Republicans are also on solid ground in criticizing Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which two federal appeals courts have said violated the Constitution's "advice and consent" requirement by cutting the Senate out of the process. But the Republicans neglect to mention that the logic of those rulings, which say bypassing the Senate is permissible only between congressional sessions, condemns past appointments by presidents of both parties.

The legality of Obama's immigration policies is hazier. The Republicans concede the president has considerable leeway in deciding how to enforce immigration law, and focusing on illegal immigrants with criminal records seems to fall squarely within that authority. But Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program arguably exceeds his enforcement discretion by creating a general exemption similar to the one that would have been established by the DREAM Act, which Congress repeatedly has declined to approve.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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