Back in 2008, Candidate Obama ran for president on a platform of change, including promises of government transparency, the likes of which we'd never seen before. Of course, countless scandals -- from Solyndra to Fast and Furious -- prove that we're still not seeing that transparency. However, several Republican lawmakers are out to force the president to meet his own standards. They're introducing legislation that would bar the president from passing any "midnight resolutions," orders lame duck presidents issue in the last minutes of executive office.
The Midnight Rule Relief Act, H.R. 4607, follows an April letter from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that urged President Obama not to pass any "midnight regulations."
"We believe that issuing a raft of midnight regulations would be inconsistent with your January 2009 commitment to transparency and accountability in the rulemaking process," they wrote.
H.R. 4607 goes much further than a request, by preventing "significant" regulations from being promulgated from the day after the November election through Jan. 20, Obama's last day in office should he lose.
Republican supporters of the bill said an outgoing president should not have the authority to issue these rules, which the bill defines as those having an impact on the economy of $100 million or more.
Given President Obama's proclivity for dodging Congress when enacting his agenda -- think "recess" appointments and airstrikes on Libya -- the legislation addresses a legitimate concern. Should he lose his reelection bid this November, it's likely that he'll do all he can to fulfill his policy goals before leaving office. Hey, remember "We Can't Wait?" He's said he's willing to act unilaterally before:
One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism.
“We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was the White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.”
Mr. Obama has emphasized the fact that he is bypassing lawmakers. When he announced a cut in refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages last month, for example, he said: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”
The lawmakers behind the bill -- Reid Ribble (R-WI) in the House and Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate -- recognize the danger of a politician with lots of power and nothing to lose. Thus, they seek to nip in the bud any far-reaching regulations that Obama may wish to pass before he leaves office.
"Significant regulatory actions should be proposed and put in place before Election Day," Johnson said. "Too often, Presidents wait until after the voters have spoken to impose new and costly rules — rules that the people ought to know about before going to the polls.
"This bill ensures that except for some specific circumstance, new major regulations will not be imposed once a President has become a lame duck," he added.
"This is a straightforward good-government reform," [fellow cosponsor Darrell] Issa said. "Any president who has lost his mandate to govern should not be permitted to hatch costly new regulatory schemes on his way out the door."
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Democrats will be receptive to the bill -- and signs point to no -- but regardless, it's a good reform that tackles a controversial problem. Whether Republican or Democrat, presidents of every stripe have taken advantage of their last vestiges of power in ways controversial. A law like this would prevent any chief executive, from the right or the left, from abusing the last of their power. It's hard to argue that this is a hyperpartisan, straight-anti-Obama bill when the Democrats might consider the kinds of GOP midnight regulations it could prevent.