I'm re-upping Conn's report from yesterday because it deserves amplification. We already knew that President Obama was happy to continue waging war in Libya even after his lawyers told him he needed Congressional approval. We already knew that he was willing to alter and delay major portions of Obamacare, regardless of the statutory language. And we already knew that he was eager to indefinitely suspend deportations for millions of illegal immigrant adults -- and proactively give them legal work papers, making them eligible for billions in tax credits -- despite years of explicitly arguing that he didn't have the authority to do so. In an effort to illustrate the consequences of this lawlessness for liberals, some conservatives have argued that the "Obama precedent" may well be exploited by future Republican chief executives to justify highly dubious end-runs around the Constitution's separation of powers to achieve conservative goals. Many liberals don't seem too bothered this, alas, secure in the knowledge that such an attempt would be treated by the press as full-blown national crisis, as opposed to an interesting Beltway process fight. One idea that's been floated is that a GOP president could issue an executive action ordering the IRS to cease enforcing all tax collection over a certain percentage of income, thus implementing a flat tax by fiat. If the media rules were equal for both sides, Congressional Democrats would complain bitterly, file lawsuits, and try to use the power of the purse to defund or reverse their nemesis' actions. Republicans would respond by calling Democrats unhinged and hyperbolic, the lawsuits would drag on, and Congressional push-back would be filibustered or vetoed. It now looks like the Obama administration is looking into to beating hypothetical future power abusers to the punch:
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Monday that President Obama is "very interested" in the idea of raising taxes through unilateral executive action. "The president certainly has not indicated any reticence in using his executive authority to try and advance an agenda that benefits middle class Americans," Earnest said in response to a question about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) calling on Obama to raise more than $100 billion in taxes through IRS executive action. "Now I don't want to leave you with the impression that there is some imminent announcement, there is not, at least that I know of," Earnest continued. "But the president has asked his team to examine the array of executive authorities that are available to him to try to make progress on his goals..."
In the new season of Netflix's House of Cards (no spoilers), one of the major plot conflicts revolves around President Underwood's illegal decision to direct federal appropriations for purposes that suit his political interests, but for which Congress did not approve them. What's cute about the fictionalized depiction of this Constitutional power struggle is that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill angrily push back against Underwood's overreach, uniting in an effort to block his designs. On principle. Back in the real world, Congressional Democrats are writing letters to Obama imploring him to arrogate more power. Since the Republican Congress is opposed to tax increases, they say, Obama must use executive orders to find ways to increase the tax burden on corporations, which would help pay for other initiatives Obama wants. This anti-Constitutional cheerleading isn't just coming from a self-described Socialist outlier from Vermont; a top member of the party's leadership, and the Left's current Senate darling are also on board. Senators Durbin and Warren must believe that if our current president decides he has the power to increase taxes through executive order, future presidents surely can use "enforcement discretion" and other such fig leaves to justify cutting taxes by decree, yes? This is the path President Obama is establishing as acceptable, with minions in Congress egging him on. As for Congress' specifically enumerated spending powers, surely this administration isn't quite brazen enough (yet) to simply appropriate funds that weren't approved by Congress, right? Wrong. Sometimes the ends just justify the means:
The U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed a request by House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., to explain $3 billion in payments that were made to health insurers even though Congress never authorized the spending through annual appropriations. At issue are payments to insurers known as cost-sharing subsidies. These payments come about because President Obama’s healthcare law forces insurers to limit out-of-pocket costs for certain low income individuals by capping consumer expenses, such as deductibles and co-payments, in insurance policies. In exchange for capping these charges, insurers are supposed to receive compensation. What’s tricky is that Congress never authorized any money to make such payments to insurers in its annual appropriations, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury, made them anyway.
And before you ask, yes, this is part of Congressional Republicans' Obamacare lawsuit, which Democrats are amusingly decrying as a waste of taxpayer money. I'll leave you with a golden oldie of our Constitutionalist-in-Chief diagnosing America's biggest Bush-era problem: