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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Deciding the president’s authority

Published:

President Barack Obama and Democrats clearly are not taking House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to file suit against the president seriously.

Obama said this to a Kansas City crowd Wednesday shortly before the House voted to approve the litigation:

“Everybody recognizes this is a political stunt. But it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you.”

It was an artful way to characterize the House as playing politics while ignoring the nation’s needs. But in reality the litigation addresses a matter of critical importance:

The president’s responsibility to execute laws as adopted by Congress.

Forget the grandstanding politics surrounding the controversy. This is not a prelude to an impeachment effort, as the Democrats are asserting in an effort to rally their base. And it is more than just another GOP effort to undermine the president — despite some of the inflammatory language being used.

As the Associated Press reports, the case may not even be decided while Obama is in office. But what the courts decide could have enormous impact on the separation of powers and the enforcement of federal laws in future administrations.

As Boehner asked his colleagues during the debate Wednesday: “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?”

The case is based on Obama selectively enforcing, changing or even creating laws without, as Boehner says, “the involvement of the Legislative Branch.”

This strikes at the core of the U.S. Constitution and deserves clarification.

Obama has consistently gone his own legal way on a number of issues, including immigration, drugs and health care.

True, it is customary for presidents to be accorded some modest degree of latitude in executing laws. But Obama has changed or simply ignored laws he found inconvenient, particularly the Affordable Care Act.

As we’ve pointed out before, the president twice delayed for a year the law’s mandate that businesses with 50 or more employees offer health insurance or pay a fine.

Although the act adopted by Congress required businesses with 100 or more workers to offer health insurance for 100 percent of workers, the Obama administration changed the percentage to 70 in 2015 and 95 percent in subsequent years. He has revised or delayed the Affordable Care Act dozens of times.

The courts may not want to enter this fray or may determine the House cannot demonstrate it has been harmed by Obama’s actions. But the U.S. Supreme Court has shown a willingness to curb the executive branch’s authority.

Earlier this year, it found the president exceeded his authority by declaring the Senate in recess and then making appointments without its approval. The high court also ruled the administration’s requirement that businesses make morning-after pills available to workers violated the company owner’s religious rights.

Take away the party affiliations of those involved, and it is easier to see the questions the lawsuit raises are neither frivolous nor partisan. Democratic members of Congress should be equally concerned about a president’s arbitrary use of power and welcome a thoughtful judicial review.

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