POLITICS: PennAve

Five times that President Obama went around Congress

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Politics,White House,Congress,Immigration,Barack Obama,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Student Loans,Gay rights,Minimum Wage,Pay Equity

Once again, President Obama has cheered supporters by bypassing Congress.

Gay and lesbian rights groups are celebrating news that Obama plans to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from hiring or firing employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Obama's move, which the White House confirmed Monday, will undoubtedly energize Democrats liberal base four and a half months before a critical midterm election.

But Democrats who wanted a far broader anti-discrimination measure and are having to settle for a more limited step. It's a familiar pattern in Washington as Obama tries to circumvent gridlock on Capitol Hill by taking half steps on his own.

Here's a look at five times Obama has bypassed Congress to achieve a sort of victory for Democratic goals.

Protection from job discrimination

What Democrats wanted: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would ban discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by all U.S. employers with at least 15 employees.

Why it stalled: Though ENDA has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, Republicans in the House and Senate have blocked its passage, arguing that it puts too many federal restrictions on business hiring decisions. As their control of Congress came to a close in 2010, Democrats chose to end the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy instead.

What Obama did instead: The president will issue an executive action barring federal contractors from hiring or firing employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

How it falls short: Private-sector companies that don't have contracts with the federal government can still discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgendered people in personnel decisions.

Student loans

What Democrats wanted: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sponsored a bill that would have let people with federal and private loans issued before 2010 to refinance at 3.86 percent – the interest rate Congress set for federal student loans last year.

Why it stalled: The bill failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance the bill in the Senate, receiving a 56-38 vote on the Senate floor June 11. The House has not taken up similar legislation.

What Obama did instead: The president signed an executive order June 9 allowing people who took out federal loans before 2007 – nearly five million borrowers – to limit their monthly loan payments to 10 percent of their income. It also offers loan forgiveness programs for on-time payments and public-sector employees.

How it falls short: The program does not address interest rates on student loans and the expansion of eligibility does not go into effect until December 2015.

Equal pay laws for women

What Democrats wanted: Democratic lawmakers have pushed for an expansion of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which makes it illegal for employers to pay unequal amounts to men and women who perform equal work. Democrats want to make it easier for women to file — and win — lawsuits against their employers under the law, which currently allows employers to use seniority or merit systems as a defense.

Why it stalled: The Democrat-controlled House passed the Paycheck Fairness bill in January 2009 but Republicans blocked it in the Senate in 2010, and it was again blocked by a Republican filibuster earlier this year.

What Obama did instead: In April, Obama issued an executive order banning federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation and required the Labor Department to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to report data on the compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race.

How it falls short: Again, Obama's order only applies to federal contractors and employees of them. It does not change the legal hurdles plaintiffs face in taking their employers to court over pay-equity complaints.

The minimum wage

What Democrats wanted: Many Democrats have pushed to raise the national minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 per hour, indexed to inflation. In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, Obama called on Congress to gradually raise the minimum wage so that it hits $9 hour in 2015. The minimum wage now stands at $7.25 and has not been raised since 2009.

Why it stalled: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced a bill last year to increase the minimum wage to $9.80 and index it to inflation. The pair this year now want to raise it to $10.10. But House Republicans have blocked any action on the bills in the House, arguing that raising the minimum wage would hurt job growth.

What Obama did instead: Obama raised the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour on Jan. 28, meaning the lowest-paid federal workers hired under new federal contracts would benefit from the new order.

How it falls short: The executive order only applies to federal workers operating under new contracts with the government.

Immigration reform

What Democrats wanted: A path to citizenship for the nearly 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States and an end to strict deportation requirements.

Why it stalled: The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill last summer, but House Republicans have blocked it, arguing that illegal immigrants should not be given amnesty until the border is secure and immigration reform should be handled in a piecemeal way instead of with a major bill.

What Obama did instead: Obama issued an executive action in June of 2012 to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 to remain in the country and to work legally and obtain driver's licenses and other legal documents.

How it falls short: The action does not grant any permanent legal status to immigrants who came here as children. It also does not address the millions of other immigrants who came to the U.S. as adults.

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