Friday, August 9, 2013

Barack Obama as a benevolent dictator

The White House quietly announced on Wednesday that members of Congress can still their federal health insurance subsidies in spite of a clause in the Affordable Care Act that specifically says otherwise. The law requires members of Congress to purchase unsubsidized insurance on Obamacare’s new exchanges “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” Obama made a “personally request” that his Office of Personnel Management continue to pay the subsidies to congressional members and staffers with salaries as high as $175,000 according to the Wall St. Journal. In response, the OPM decided to interpret the clause completely opposite from the way it has been traditionally understood.

According to NPR, the prospect that Congress would have to pay the same insurance rates as the rest of the country led to a “bipartisan uproar” and fears of a “brain drain” as staffers retired to keep their benefits. When rumors of a congressional exemption became public last April, a Rasmussen poll indicated that 95 percent of Americans believed that Congress should face the same requirements as all other Americans. It would have been a political nightmare for Democrats in Congress to enact legislation exempting themselves from an unpopular law just prior to a hotly contested election. Fortunately for Congress, President Obama stepped in to save the day.

“No one so far who's really looked at this sees a legal way for them to do this,” Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation told NPR. Haislmaier is one of the authors of a paper detailing the congressional health insurance problem and argues that only Congress could pass legislation to deal with it.

“Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting,” President Obama said in July 2011. He continued, “But that's not how -- that's not how our system works…. That’s not how our Constitution is written.” The evidence shows that Barack Obama has succumbed to this temptation, not once, but many times.

The move to exempt Congress from Obamacare comes only a few weeks after President Obama also unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate. On July 3, the White House announced the president’s decision to not require that businesses provide their employees with health insurance until 2015 according to The Hill. The law does not give the president the authority to delay implementation of the mandate, one of the central tenets of his signature piece of legislation.

These decisions were not the first time that the Obama Administration had violated the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Since the law’s passage in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services issued more than 1,400 waivers that allowed businesses to not meet the law’s requirements according to the Daily Caller. The problem is that these waivers were not authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Instead, President Obama’s Health and Human Services department issued new rules and regulations that gave itself the power to waive the law. Congress did grant waiver authority to HHS in some aspects of the law, but not the provision that required businesses to increase the amount of health insurance provided to employees.

The Obama Administration’s disrespect for the rule of law is not limited to Obamacare. Less than four months into his presidency, in April 2009, President Obama unilaterally ordered the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler using TARP funds even though TARP was specifically limited to financial institutions by Congress. When the auto giants went bankrupt anyway, President Obama and his advisors ignored established bankruptcy law and placed politically favored unions ahead secured creditors. National Affairs details how the president browbeat investors, including pension funds for state retirees, to write off their losses and then put the auto companies under the control of his “car czar,” Steve Rattner.

It was also in the auto bankruptcies that the first hints of the Obama Administration’s targeting of political opponents became public. In the summer of 2009, rumors flew that the Administration’s car czar was targeting car dealerships owned by Republicans for closure while sparing the majority of Democratic dealerships. In September 2009, denied the rumors, but with the recent revelations of the IRS targeting of conservative groups, two congressmen are calling for a new investigation of the Treasury Department’s role in closing the dealerships.

There are many other instances of President Obama’s executive overreach as well. In May 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Obama, again unilaterally, ordered a six month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. When a judge struck down the ban on drilling, Obama’s Interior Department ordered an almost identical ban the next day, an action that the judge to hold the Obama Administration in contempt of court. The contempt ruling was overturned in 2012 by a panel of judges though the order striking down the ban was upheld.

In April 2011, President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Boeing alleging that the company was engaged in illegal retaliation against unions by opening a new plant in the right-to-work state of South Carolina. Bloomberg notes that the complaint was suddenly dropped in December after Boeing reached an agreement with its machinist union.

In December 2010, President Obama’s FCC imposed “net neutrality” rules on internet companies by issuing a regulatory rule. According to CNET, the FCC had previously tried to impose net neutrality in 2008, but a three-judge panel ruled that Congress had not given the FCC the authority to regulate the network management policies of internet providers. When Congress failed to pass a net neutrality law, Obama’s FCC chairman imposed the rules anyway. A case challenging the FCC rules is currently before the Supreme Court.

In March 2011, even though President Obama had criticized President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, Obama decided to intervene militarily in the Libyan civil war. Unlike President Bush, who sought approval from Congress as required by the Constitution and the War Powers Act, Obama gave the order to go to war in Libya unilaterally. Obama did not seek congressional approval for the war and denied that the War Powers Act applied.

In January 2012, Obama made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and one to the new federal Consumer Protection Bureau. While the Constitution does allow presidents to make recess appointments under certain circumstances, it requires Congress to actually be in recess when the appointments are made. Three federal courts ruled that Obama’s appointments were unconstitutional, but the NLRB simply ignored the rulings. The case was headed for the Supreme Court when Senate Democrats and Republicans reached a deal on the use of the filibuster. The deal may affect whether the Supreme Court hears the case.

In June 2012, as the election between Mitt Romney and Obama heated up, the president mobilized Hispanic support by unilaterally deciding not to enforce portions of current immigration law. Obama announced as part of his “We can’t wait” [for Congress to pass a law] campaign that he would stop deportation proceedings against young immigrants who had entered the country illegally. The decision derailed congressional work on the DREAM Act and was in direct violation of U.S. immigration law.

After the Newtown massacre, Obama bypassed Congress and issued 23 Executive Orders designed to further his gun control policies. According to Reuters, Obama said, “Where they [Congress] won’t act, I will.” Obama stopped short of ordering an assault weapons ban though he urged Congress to pass one.

Earlier in his presidency, Obama had asked Congress to pass cap-and-trade legislation to regulate carbon. Congress declined to pass the bill, even when Democrats controlled both houses, so President Obama is once again using executive agencies to legislate. The Washington Post reported in June 2013 that the EPA will use the Clean Air Act to impose carbon regulation on new coal and gas power plants.

To some extent, Obama’s executive actions are the result of an abdication by Congress. Timothy Lee pointed out in Forbes that the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law both require thousands of pages of regulations that are written and enforced by unelected executive branch bureaucrats. Much of Obama’s executive overreach can be blamed on no one but Obama himself however.

Other aspects of Obama’s executive abuse are less benevolent. In May 2013, the IRS admitted to targeting conservative groups during the 2012 elections. Congressional investigations subsequently revealed that the IRS had been illegally working against Obama’s political opponents as early as August 2010 and possibly as early as 2008. Last week, the Federal Election Commission was implicated in the scandal as emails surfaced showing illegal collusion between FEC and the IRS officials investigating conservative groups according to CNN. On August 7, 2013, the Wall St. Journal reported that Democratic commissioners on the Securities and Exchange Commission tried to implement new rules on political contributions by public companies that would have also had the effect of making it more difficult for conservative groups to raise funds and speak out against Obama.

The sum total of Obama’s actions indicates that he may consider himself a benevolent dictator, an authoritarian ruler who acts for the benefit of the people rather than for himself. His repression of the free speech rights of his opponents is proof that a benevolent dictator is a dictator nonetheless. Rather than favoring the nation as a whole, Obama’s policies benefit favored demographic groups and political allies. President Obama’s “determined disregard” for the laws of the United States may be applauded by some who agree with his goals, but his actions set a disturbing precedent and raise grave questions about the future of the United States.

Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

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