Obama's Top Four Power Grabs

The president stretches executive power to expand the warfare state and the regulatory state.


Candidates never keep their promises once in office. But even by the unlovely standards of his political peers, President Obama has pulled a rather impressive switcheroo from the anti-Bush to Bush-plus. He ran on a platform to undo President George W. Bush's legacy and restore government accountability, even signing the pledge from the Reason Foundation (where I work) to "fully and robustly" work toward "open, transparent, and accountable government principles."

Instead, he has expanded executive power to czar-like proportions on fronts where even Bush feared to tread. Progressive crazies such as The New York Times' columnist Paul Krugman are chiding Obama for being squeamish about using his executive authority to raise the debt ceiling, choosing, instead, to negotiate cuts in government spending—a crime and an abomination in their book—with a Tea Party-cowed GOP. But the 14th Amendment gives Congress, not the president, the authority on debt-related matters. Doing an end run around the amendment would have precipitated a constitutional crisis that the Obama presidency might well have been unable to weather.

But the fact of the matter is that when Obama can get away with deploying his executive power to accomplish his agenda, he does so without pause or hesitation, constitutional niceties such as checks-and-balances be damned. His many power grabs are worthy of a book. But below are four of the truly unprecedented ones, two that expand the war state and two that expand the regulatory state.

1. War-making powers. During the campaign, Obama famously declared that when it came to bombing Iran's nuclear facilities: "The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

But not only did he not get prior congressional approval before bombing Libya, which poses no threat, he refused to get approval even 90 days after the fact as required by the War Powers Resolution Act. Why? Because he insists that unless troops are committed, we are not engaged in a war, only "kinetic military action."

By that logic, he could drop a nuclear bomb on any country using drones without consulting anyone and there would be nothing illegal about it. Even Bush obtained congressional authorization before attacking Afghanistan and Iraq.

2. Civil liberties. During a 2005 speech, Obama rightly condemned the "false choice" between liberty and security posed by the Bush war on terror. So what does he do after getting elected? Not only does he not return the civil liberties that Bush took away, he confiscates more.

He has not: shut down Guantanamo; abandoned the use of military tribunals to try enemy combatants; given up rendition; or phased out the worst abuses of the Patriot Act.

But he has prosecuted almost twice as many leakers as all previous presidents put together to protect government secrets. His most original and outrageous assault on civil liberties, however, is his assertion that he has the right to summarily execute, without due process or judicial oversight, suspected American terrorists on foreign soil such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen who allegedly inspired the Fort Hood shooter. Awlaki might be a bad man, but killing an American citizen anywhere—here or abroad—without sharing any evidence with courts or Congress goes further than Bush ever went.

3. Legislating through bureaucrats. If this assault on civil liberties is chilling, so is the manner in which Obama and his congressional minions are colluding to hand over control of the economy to unelected bureaucrats.

Consider the Independent Payment Advisory Board that Obamacare created. Its 15-member board, appointed by the president, has virtual carte blanche to cut Medicare spending by mandating "evidence-based medicine" (code for rationing) or slashing physician payments. Its "recommendations" will have the force of law unless Congress passes—with a three-fifths supermajority in the Senate—alternative cuts of an equal amount. This, in essence, delegates away Congress' legislative powers.

But the real kicker is that it will be nearly impossible for future Congresses to repeal the board, a profound assault on the Constitution. Congress will have a small window between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1 in 2017 to introduce a joint resolution calling for its repeal. If the resolution passes with a supermajority by Aug. 15, it will be dismantled in … 2020.

It might be easier to dissolve the union than the board.

This is not the administration's only monster child. There is also the Consumer Financial Protection Agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. It'll be headed by one czar, not even a full board like the ObamaCare advisory board, who'll have sweeping powers to dictate to banks, lending institutions, credit unions and payday lenders among others what financial instruments they can offer and on what terms. The czar (Obama has nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray) won't be subject to removal by Congress, and lawmakers won't be able to be repeal his directives without a two-thirds majority. What's more, the agency will draw its funding from the Federal Reserve without any congressional oversight.

4. Killing the auto industry through regulatory fiat. At least the president worked with Congress before delivering the financial and health care industries to the clutches of bureaucrats. If only the auto industry had been so lucky. The administration's newly proposed fuel economy standards are the regulatory equivalent of declaring war on carmakers, as I noted in my last column. However, as with Libya, the administration failed to involve Congress, in a clear departure from past precedent when Congress has set the standards and the EPA has implemented them. This time, the EPA is doing both.

Reportedly, Obama used to omit the separation-of-powers doctrine when he taught constitutional law. But he must have also skipped school when the doctrine was covered because he evidently doesn't get it. Bush was a bad student. What's Obama's excuse?

Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia is a columnist at The Daily, America's first iPad newspaper, where a version of this column was originally published. Cynthia Bell of Seton Hall University provided valuable research assistance.

NEXT: Kicked Around

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  1. If you discount the promises of candidates (as you should), there is no evidence – zero – of what Obama would do as president. He had previously never governed a day in his life. He barely legislated.

    And as a lifelong academic/public sector creature, he has no practical, real world experience. As a leftist, of course he was going to be seduced by the notion that the more power his office could collect, the better he could centrally solve everyone’s problems. (Also, the more money for his cronies.)

    1. Previous governing behavior is not much more reliable evidence — I’m not convinced it’s more reliable at all. Even serving as governor of a state is so different in nature from the presidency that conclusions are pretty much worthless.

      1. Golly, thanks, Tulpa!

      2. Hell, just finding one soul that 1) grew up with him; 2) was in his wedding party; 3) knew him at Harvard; 3)ever dated him; 4) produced any school records at any level; 5) has any plausable explanation for his myriad social security numbers; 6) ad nauseum; might have given a modicum of confidence of the pud.

    2. If you discount the promises of candidates (as you should)

      If you look at the sweet nothings Obama whispered in the electorate’s ear during the campaign, sure, he might have looked like a pretty good guy. But that’s the kind of thing you should ignore. If you bothered to read his actual platform (and I did), his answer to pretty much every problem was a new Federal Department of _______. The idea that this guy was going to be any kind of believer in smaller, more transparent government is just laughable.

    3. You must have forgotten Bill Clinton.

  2. You forgot destroying bondholder’s rights and bankruptcy law

  3. When the good guy has power then it is ok, soon America will be like Sweden and everyone will live better.

    1. “When the good guy has power then it is ok, soon America will be like Sweden and everyone will live better.”

      Well your “good guy” is not MY good guy. Your wanderlust for social utopia and it’s chosen “czar” does not trump my freedom or my liberty. You can have your “life” as long as it does not tread on MINE.

      As for us becoming “Sweden” I think not. There is nothing wrong with the Original US tony ….just because you don’t like it does not make it OK for you chosen snake to kill us.

      Grow up get a job and pay some of your beloved “Taxes” then let’s see were you stand.

      1. You just fell for the oldest sockpuppet in he book. I’m not sure the real Tony even posts here anymore. I’m only moderately sure there was a real Tony.

        1. “You just fell for the oldest sockpuppet in he book.”

          I may have BUT I will beat that sock puppet with a 2 x 4 every chance I get.

          1. +1

      2. “There is nothing wrong with the Original US tony.”

        Are you sure this is the original Tony? Sounds like a parody to me.

        1. Who can tell?

    2. I wouldn’t exactly use Sweden as a model of success, since they’ve had massive problems recently and they’re inflating a bubble again. And, of course, they blame Kurds and foreigners for such problems, the favorite whipping boys for collectivist thinkers. Perhaps Norway would fit your mold better. Oh, wait, they finance their social system with oil, which, according to leftist ideology/religion, is unsustainable and evil. So, where do you turn?

      1. It’s not oil per se that’s evil, it’s the massive profits going to individuals that’s evil.
        State run oil is acceptable because the profits are socialized, and being that it is run by the government there will never be any spills or mishaps since government doesn’t skip corners to make profits.
        I’m quite sure leftists in this country would have no problem with drilling in the Gulf, or anywhere else for that matter, if it was done by a state run agency with all profits going to the Treasury.

    3. Why does the United States have to be like Sweden? There’s already a country that’s like Sweden. It’s called “Sweden” and you’re more than welcome to move there if you think it’s so great.

  4. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
    -Lord Acton

  5. Let me be clear.

    I do not lie.

  6. He ran on a platform to undo President George W. Bush’s legacy and restore government accountability, even signing the pledge from the Reason Foundation (where I work) to “fully and robustly” work toward “open, transparent, and accountable government principles.”

    He probably wasn’t expecting the level of GOP obstructionism we’ve seen retarding his work these past two years. You can’t take campaign promises in a vacumm.

    1. I agree with less opposition, he could go on more power grabs, which is logically a good thing.

      1. Tansparency is easier when there’s no opposition around to demand accountability, and it doesn’t help that you’er the one accountable now either.

      2. Wow, you’re a funny one. I bet people always invite you to parties to experience your acrid wit. [sarcasm]

        1. So do you get invited to parties for your superior mind ?

          I mean only a genius like yourself could think of the idea that the President grabbed more power because of the fault of opposition. Only mere mortal could think of the dumb idea that a president would grab less power with less opposition around !

    2. So what was his excuse for the first two years?

      1. The GOP was being obstructive then too. Remember the health care debates?

        1. I have a feeling that once a Republican president is in office, this “obstructionism” you talk of will disappear to be replaced by “the legislative process” on the part of patriotic Senate Democrats. Naked hypocrisy is a stinky cologne…

        2. I remember the debates.
          GOP “How about…”
          Dems “shut up and leave the room”.
          MSNBC “Repub’s try to shut down debate”

          1. CNN “The GOP just murdered a puppy”.

        3. Mustard, thanks for bringing teh stoopid. We missed Max and Choney around these parts – you more than make up for it.

    3. So the reason his administration isn’t transparent is because that darn GOP just forces him to deny FOIA requests, darn it! Will their nefarious schemes ever end?

    4. Thanks god for GOP obstructionism, then.
      Because according to your beliefs, Obama would have been much, much worse without at least some resistance.

      Not that i didn’t believe this already. I’ve said plenty of times that the only thing you need to see the true Stalinist, totalitarian commie face of Democrats is to just get out of the way completely for a couple of years.

    5. If we would just relax and give Obama all the power, he’d set it all right for us.

    6. Look, mustard, when the time comes for the power shift, and Republicans have thei figurehead in the Oval Office and a majority in both Houses… Team Blue will do all the obstructing.

      Happens every time.

      1. There’s a difference between resisting and obstructing.

        1. You mean it’s resisting when Blue does it, and obstructing when Red does it?

          1. By george I think you’ve got it!

        2. STOP RESISTING!!!111!!!


        3. I’ll just assume that you’re not being serious, and so, I’ll laugh along with you… LOL!

    7. I mean, how do you awful Reasonites expect poor Obama to keep his campaign promises when his party only had a veto-proof Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House? Those evil Republicans exploited their dismal approval ratings, electoral failure, and predictions of demise to block the poor man at every turn! Obama couldn’t pass his stimulus bill, his bail-out of the auto industry, his re-writing of the bankrupcy laws, or Obamacare because of GOP obstruction…

      Hey, wait a minute….

    8. Are you saying Obama is being retarded?

    9. You’re right, Republicans would hardly want to hold a Democrat-run government accountable, would they?

      Truly, your wisdom is deep. And by deep, I mean low. And by wisdom, I mean IQ.

    10. Absolutely. It’s almost impossible to get things done when all you have are the fragile reeds of filibuster-proof majorities in BOTH Senate and the House.


      You don’t really think everybody accepts your patent nonsense, do you?

    11. I am reminded of the Iranian position on nukes: If you don’t accept our right to develop them, we’ll develop them.

  7. Oh no, he is not a super man! I can not trust him any more!

    1. No, you cannot trust him any more because he is a hypocrite and a compulsive liar.

      Not because he is not superman.

      1. But we have best price on sandals for super man alike! Oh yes!

  8. It takes a Constitutional Law professor to know how to really fuck up the Constitution.

    1. Let me be clear.

      If you know one, please get back with me.

    2. I think people like these study Constitutional Law with only one purpose in mind: to find ways in which to exploit loopholes or weaknesses.
      Certainly, they can pretend that their “interpretations” are what the constitution would allow, since most stupid people appeal to the “authority” of a constitutional law teacher.

      1. No, they “study” Constitutional Law so they can just go ahead an do whatever they want, and then say “of course it’s Constitutional, I studied Constitutional Law!”

        “But the Constitution says-”

        “Did YOU study Constitutional Law???”

        1. Actually, that is what i said.

          I just used different words.

          1. I don’t think they’re interested in exploiting loopholes or weaknesses. That’s giving them way too much credit. They’re not even looking for them.

            1. They can’t and don’t just say: I Studied Constitutional Law, so shut up while i do what i want.”

              That is why during the debt debate, Democrats advised Obama to invoke the 14th as a pretext to simply do it without congress’ approval.

              They didn’t tell him: “Just do it, you studied the constitution.”

              They told him: “The 14th amendment can be used a pretext. Use that.”

              It is also why the phrase “general welfare” is used to tell people the constitution basically allows whatever the president wants, as long as it is in the public’s perceived “general welfare”.

      2. The Constitution is a security system. Obama is a black hat “expert”.

  9. Seeking power is the surest sign that a person shouldn’t have it.

  10. He was once a little brown slab of clay
    You should see what Obama can do to-day
    He can walk into any war
    with his pony pal, Biden, too
    If you’ve got a heart
    then Obama’s a part of you!

    1. I’m Gumby, dammit!

  11. Obama signed the pledge from the Reason Foundation (where I work) to “fully and robustly” work toward “open, transparent, and accountable government principles

    Holy shit, Obama’s a libertarian. Say no more, that explains the hypocrisy

    1. Holy shit, rather’s a retard. Say no more, that explains the stupidity.

      1. Yes, it does.

        But let’s not forget the stupidity of anyone who actually believed for a split second that Obama would “fully and robustly” work toward “open, transparent, and accountable government principles.

        How many bridges has Reason Foundation bought by now? That’s what you get for being libertarian yet still believing any politician is capable of being honest and doing what’s right.

        1. “still believing any politician is capable of being honest and doing what’s right”

          I think that there may be a few, but they don’t stay that way for very long. Once they discover that they can lie, cheat and steal without consequence, they quickly become just another politician.

          1. People don’t need to *become* politicians before realizing that as politicians, they can lie cheat and steal without consequence.

            They become politicians *because* they realize that as politicians they can lie cheat and steal without consequence.

            Only idiots, narcissists or psychopaths want to become politicians.

          2. Ron Paul…proof that politicians can have integrity.

            1. Yet he still manages to bring home the bacon.

              1. C’mon. Honestly, it’s hard NOT to bring home bacon the way it’s thrown at everyone in Warrrshington any more.

                “You want bacon?”


                “Here! Have some anyway!”


                “What? Not enough – here’s some more!!”

                1. If he was as principled as his worshipers claim him to be, he would find a way to refuse.
                  He puts on a good show, but actions speak louder than words.

                  1. his constituents pay taxes as well, so they should at least see some of that bacon being stuffed into his pockets

                    1. “his constituents pay taxes as well, so they should at least see some of that bacon being stuffed into his pockets”

                      His constituents pay taxes because they have to, not because they want to see it disappear into Ron Paul’s pockets.

            2. Ron Paul has a plate on his desk that says (i may be paraphrasing): “Don’t steal. The government doesn’t like competition.”

              And yet he’s a politician, and his salary is paid for by taxes.

              Something about that doesn’t exactly scream “integrity”.

              I like Ron Paul as much as the next libertarian. But that sympathy is only *relative*, and i have no intention of calling anyone who gets paid by the loot from productive people, a man with “integrity”.

              Aside from that, he believes in the constitution, and harps on about transferring more power from the federal government to the state governments. As if making state aggression regional instead of national changes anything about the nature of aggression.
              Any freedom lover that worships the constitution should read Lysander Spooner’s “No Treason”.

  12. Guess my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

    Would someone kindly link to the actual text of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985?

      1. Thanks, sarcasmic. I got that far on my own.

        Actual text, please.

        1. Would you like fries with that?

          1. No.

            Linky, you so smart.

        2. sarcasmic is special! Please don’t be mean to him 🙁

  13. Libertarian lynch mob calls for vigilante justice.

    Nothing else happens.


    1. Smith quickly reached for the suicide switch. Better to die a Kullollich’s death than to suffer as a Rylanjulanio, he thought as he flipped it.

    2. Oh. The irony. How it burns. Ow.

  14. Turns out you can’t dictate the every day economic behavior of people without a massive warfare/surveillance state. Who knew? I mean, besides Friedrich Hayek.

    1. *cough*

      1. *ahem*

        1. *mmmbrrrrHHHRRRGGGMmmmmhhrrr*

          1. I know, right?!

  15. Hai guize check out my new blog1

    1. That just ain’t right.

      1. Didn’t Orange line Special get a perma-ban for real? I seem to remember that. It was worth a grim chuckle.

  16. I am convinced by the progress of recent events that the real debate is that of rule by oligarches vs. governance by consent of the governed.

    There are those in the US who truly believe that they are too ignorant of their own condition and would rather be told how to exist as a “citizen” than to make the attempt to govern themself and be held accountable for the outcome of their actions.

    Since I do not hold the above to be true, I take strong exception to above approach of our current gathering of poultroons and support a limited Constituional Republic as envisioned by our Founders.

    1. True freedom, as envisioned by Marx and others, means being free from choice.
      Let the best and the brightest make your choices for you and codify them into law.
      All you must do is obey.
      That leaves you free to pursue the pinnacle of the hierarchy of needs, which you would never be able to do if you were constrained by simple choices of everyday life.

      1. That explains why Marx thought slavery was progressive.

    2. While we’re waiting for ML, I’ll observe another, um, dichotomy: those who desire to lord it over others; and those who do not. It seems to me that the ultimate thrill for someone in the first category would be to enslave *everybody else in that category*. So why do such folks bother with the rest of us? It must be to build up their war chests, practice techniques, etc. And in the end, there can be only one …

    3. The governed consented to drug prohibition, Social Security, Medicare, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, and many of the other problematic activities of the federal govt.

      True, there’s been some bad stuff passed over the objection of the people, or of which the people are ignorant, but those aren’t the root of the problem. Unbridled democracy isn’t a cure-all.

      1. “The governed consented to drug prohibition, Social Security, Medicare, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, and many of the other problematic activities of the federal govt.”

        Um, no they didn’t. Could you have picked worse example to fail to prove your point with?

  17. Shikha,

    It is not accurate to say that Obama “reportedly skipped the separation of powers when he lectured” The George Will piece is making a sarcastic comment that he may not have read it. It is not a “report” that he actually skipped it when teaching the course.

    1. “It is not accurate to say that Obama “reportedly skipped the separation of powers when he lectured” ”

      Source that please.

      1. bill made a valid point

        “When he was a lecturer on constitutional law, he evidently skipped the separation-of-powers doctrine. ” – george will

        george will is being glib. anyone who would take this as a fact is not being honest.

  18. Black is the new Green, bitchezzz!!!

    I’m Black, so I got the Green light to do whatever the hell I want.

    And if you so much as look at me the wrong way, I let loose the dogs of (media) war to call yer ass “Racist”. That’ll shut you the f**k UP!

    Now, be a good little American debt slave and blow me: just file in behind Mitch McConnell and E. J. Dionne.

  19. Great job of using headline photos….over….and over….and over!

    1. It ain’t easy, bein’ green…

  20. The Liberal/Progressive Left has for a century undermined civil liberties and individual freedom by imposing Administrative/Bureaucratic rule to advance their domestic agenda. Despite their vocal opposition to the use of Administrative agencies and procedure by GWB for national security purposes, is it really any surprise that when the Left got in office, they would also use Administrative rule for national security?

  21. “There’s a difference between resisting and obstructing.”

    Bullshit equivocation, mustard.

    You can get away with this kind of “logic” at DU, but not here. We’re not stoopid.

  22. mustard|8.2.11 @ 7:30AM|#
    “He probably wasn’t expecting the level of GOP obstructionism we’ve seen retarding his work these past two years. You can’t take campaign promises in a vacumm.”

    Translated from brain-dead:
    “The devil made him do it”.

  23. I super agree with the first and second points.

    The third point is off. Consumers out to have someone to protect our interests. The Fed is run by the banks for the banks, so should there be some sort of balance there? Besides, we all know that Republicans and lobbyists will gut this before it gets anywhere near their donors, and Democrats will easily go along to protect their donors.

    The fourth point is just… wrong.
    First, kicking innovation in the ass once in a while is not a bad thing. Higher standards for fuel consumption is a good thing. Less smog, less dependence on foreign oil, and (best of all) more money in my pocket. I don’t recall domestic auto companies doing too many new things without either foreign auto companies or the goverment leaning on them in one way or another.

    Anyway, the first two points are troubling to say the least.

  24. “Killing the auto industry”

    the auto industry was dead before the feds bailed them out and forced them to make some necessary changes they were unwilling to make on their own. the feds were better at running the auto industry than management in recent years. still, you’re right it should have gone through congress (and been watered down out of any meaningfulness)

  25. thank you man

    thank you man

    thank you man

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