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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on American manufacturing in front of an Intel plant under construction in Chandler, Arizona January 25, 2012.      REUTERS/Jason Reed    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
President Obama was hesitant to use executive actions very assertively through nearly the first three years of his presidency, hoping that Congress would take action. But facing a broken Congress in which Republicans can and will obstruct the vast majority of meaningful legislation, he started using executive authority more in late 2011, and is now considering stepping it up again to help struggling homeowners, strengthen environmental regulations, and more.

The Washington Post reports that Obama is considering a substantial list of actions. Congress won't help homeowners caught in the mortgage crisis, but Obama could allow homeowners who are underwater on privately backed mortgages to refinance those mortgages as some homeowners have been able to do with their government-backed loans. Many Republican members of Congress deny that climate change is real, but Obama could take action by having the Environmental Protection Agency regulate emissions from existing power plants. Significant energy savings could be achieved by retrofitting buildings—a project that would create work as well as benefiting the environment. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't going anywhere in Congress, but Obama could at least extend protections to gay and lesbian employees of federal contractors.

Such actions would be more limited than what Congress has the power to do—but more than Congress has the ability or will to do at present. Naturally, this idea outrages Republicans:

But the approach risks angering Republican lawmakers in Congress, who say they are leery of granting the executive branch too much power and have already clashed with Obama over the issue. [...]

“It is a very dangerous road he’s going down contrary to the spirit of the Constitution,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent interview. “Just because Congress doesn’t act doesn’t mean the president has a right to act.”

Funny how after eight years of George W. Bush, Republicans suddenly got concerned about the executive branch getting too much power when Barack Obama was elected, isn't it? While they're hypocrites, they're not wrong that it's better if things happen through the cooperation of the legislative and executive branches. But is Obama really upsetting the balance of power so much? He had fewer executive orders in his first term than any president than Harry Truman at least, and probably since well before Truman. In the first two and a half years of his presidency, the Occupational Safety and Health administration issued just two new safety regulations, more per year than George W. Bush but far fewer than Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan. So it's not like Obama's running away with things. And ultimately, if one of your major political parties is determined to keep the government from ever accomplishing anything, you have to find some way forward.

Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 11:14 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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