Hassett: Beware a year of action


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Imagine with me, if you will, an alternate version of history. Mitt Romney has won the 57th U.S. presidential election in 2012, and after a year and change delivers his 2014 State of the Union Address. Fed up with Congress’ action (or lack thereof) in the previous session, he says something like this:

“I’m eager to work with all of you, but America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The Democrat response to such a proclamation would probably caution against acting without the support of Congress, as Kathleen Sebelius, then the Democrat governor of Kansas, did following President Bush’s 2008 address.

“Join us, Mr. President, in working together with Congress to make tough, smart decisions,” she said, in a direct appeal to George W. “We have no more patience with divisive politics.”

Of course, Romney did not win the 2012 election, and that pledge to act without congressional approval came from Obama during Tuesday’s speech. And given that Obama appointed Sebelius to be the secretary of Health and Human Services, she probably won’t make the same kind of impassioned plea for bipartisanship.

No, that role belongs to the Republicans this year. But instead of pointing out Obama’s clear declaration of independence from Congress, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers told a folksy tale of makin’ it in America, the kind with flowery we-can-do-it language and dancing to Bruce Springsteen; her pace so lethargic it felt more like a principal’s lecture to schoolchildren.

Obama gave the opposition ammunition with his plan to circumvent the elected representatives of the American people (all for the noble purpose of “expanding opportunity,” naturally). But all we’re left with from Rodgers is this: “the true state of the union lies in your heart and in your home.”

Makes you just want to join hands and sing “America The Beautiful,” doesn’t it?

Even though the GOP as a whole hasn’t yet taken charge against the president’s one-man “year of action,” pundits have. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank summarized Obama’s new approach to governance quite succinctly: “Congress is welcome to help him out, of course. But it’s strictly optional.”

The president’s my-way-or-the-highway rhetoric is perhaps nothing more than a calculated response to a year that saw Congress’ approval rating drop as low as 5 percent during the government shutdown. Taking it upon himself to act as the sole executor of the will of the people might earn Obama some brownie points among the liberal base and those sick of the partisan divide.

But the newly emboldened president is taking steps down a treacherous road. The checks and balances built into our system of government are meant to ensure that each branch carries out a vital, independent role. Congress, the legislative branch, makes the laws. It behooves the executive branch, namely the president, to carry them out.

No more, says Obama. Making laws, taking the time to carry out the democratic process, is passé (never mind that he couldn’t get much of anything passed). If the House and Senate don’t agree with him on sanctions for Iran, gun control, Obamacare, minimum wage, or whatever else he deems necessary to keep America moving, then Obama will act “with or without Congress.”
Checks and balances be damned.

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