President Obama's abuse of executive power has grown to the point that "he's becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid," Jonathan Turley, a liberal law professor at George Washington University, told the House Judiciary Committee at a Dec. 3 hearing on the issue. Turley also pointed to what he described as "increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency" of the rapidly growing federal bureaucracy.
Both of these developments have accelerated the decline of congressional power that Congress, by its actions, has allowed to happen. Lawmakers have stood idly by, for example, as courts redefined the handling of captured enemy combatants, giving them more rights than they are entitled to under the Geneva Conventions and putting U.S. forces at a disadvantage in fighting terrorists. Lawmakers kept silent when Obama packed the White House staff with a shadow cabinet of "czars" who likely would have failed to win Senate confirmation. There was no pushback when the Supreme Court earlier this year allowed federal regulatory agencies essentially to define their own jurisdictions. And there has been no effective action against Obama's executive orders bypassing Congress on Obamacare, immigration and the environment.
It's time for Congress to roll back these usurpations. That means lawmakers, particularly those in the GOP-led House, must stop talking about Obama's abuses and start using the constitutional powers at their disposal -- including the power of the purse -- to reclaim congressional prerogatives and restore the proper balance among the three branches of the federal government.
Republican senators and representatives who claim to defend the Constitution should put up or shut up by introducing legislation to defund -- or abolish -- executive agencies that abrogate to themselves powers that belong to either of the other two branches, even if they were told to do so by a president seeking to expand his authority beyond the boundaries established by the Founders.
Lawmakers must remember that the Constitution gives Congress the explicit and singular authority to defund any agency and to limit the jurisdiction of federal district and appeals courts. In short, Congress needs to rediscover the fact that it has, in political theorist Willmoore Kendall's memorable phrase, “all of the ultimate weapons” in any showdown with either the chief executive or the Supreme Court.
Making full use of those weapons requires a unified will, which won't exist until after next November, if then. Still, Democrats of all ideological stripes should realize that, if lawmakers don't act soon, there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when a vengeful Republican president points to precedents established by Obama and bullies a Democratic Congress. Being obsessed for the moment with trying to save their political careers despite the nightmare of Obamacare, it's not likely they will ponder it for long.
Even so, they don't have to blindly follow Obama and oppose Republican efforts restore the constitutional balance of powers among the branches. Republicans must act now and make this issue a centerpiece of their 2014 campaign. If, as Turley suggested, the integrity of the constitutional system itself is at risk, then nothing less would be appropriate.