President Obama announced Monday the death of immigration reform in Congress this year, and vowed to act unilaterally on the issue instead. As part of his plan for shifting immigration enforcement, administration officials signaled that Obama intends to expand his policy of deferring deportation for young people who entered the U.S. illegally as children.
Whatever the merits of that particular policy, now is precisely the wrong moment to expand it. Word-of-mouth surrounding the original deferral policy almost certainly has been a significant impetus in creating the current humanitarian crisis in which tens of thousands of young children from Central America are being sent, often alone, across the U.S. border with Mexico.
But more troubling is Obama’s escalating resort to unilateralism. Obama is trying to defeat the safety mechanisms the Founders built into America's system of government. They distributed constitutional responsibility and authority among three co-equal and independent branches, not only to prevent tyranny, but also to spare Americans from having to live with the bad decisions that inevitably come when one man acts without restraint or consensus.
Last week, the Supreme Court unanimously rebuked Obama for a flagrantly illegal exercise of the recess-appointment power when the Senate was in session. All nine justices - including those Obama chose - laughed off his risible legal claim that the executive, rather than the Senate itself, gets to determine whether the Senate is in recess.
Just hours before Obama's immigration announcement, the high court issued another ruling upholding certain employers' religious freedom claims against Obamacare's ban on insurance that doesn't pay for abortifacients used as birth control. This contraceptive mandate was not part of the Obamacare bill that passed Congress. Obama created it post hoc through the regulatory process at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Not satisfied with these back-to-back rebukes, Obama is doubling down with this new immigration decision, so Congress must rein him in. In one area after another, Obama has been testing the limits, trying to govern the United States without the consent of its elected representatives. That he stands on the shoulders of his predecessors here is no excuse – the accumulation of abuses over the decades makes each president's abuses worse than those of predecessors.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week the House will file in federal court against some of Obama's excesses, with fuller details still to come. Such a resort to the courts is not unprecedented, and it might serve as a sufficient stop-gap measure. But Congress should focus on its power of the purse, which the Constitution places in the House of Representatives.
Not only can Congress attach strings to funding, it can also withhold or reduce it for selected activities. The president is a strong and sophisticated beggar, but a beggar just the same. Presidents must have prior congressional approval for spending. Congressional Republicans should make the first order of business the defunding of every activity in which Obama usurps power that the Constitution doesn't give the chief executive.