Overton: Political sideshows never end

BY JON OVERTON | JULY 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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You have to hand it to some of our representatives in D.C. They’re just working day and night to effectively ensure that nothing actually gets done.

Adding to the unending stream of manufactured political drama, House Speaker John Boehner is threatening to sue President Barack Obama because of the president’s use of executive orders.
Clearly, Obama’s actions must constitute some egregious violation of the Constitution, a threat to democracy or something like that.

But if you look at the number of executive orders issued per year, provided by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, you’ll find that during Obama’s time in office, he’s issued an average of about 34 executive orders annually. George W. Bush issued around 36 per year, Bill Clinton 45 per year, the first George Bush 42 per year, etc.

If you then look further back in history, you’ll find that no president has issued so few executive orders since Grover Cleveland, who was in office from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897.

In fact, if you look at the National Archives’ records, you’ll notice that Obama issued far fewer executive orders in 2013 compared with earlier years in his term, and in 2014, he’s on track to issue even fewer executive orders.

So let’s see what else has Boehner irked …

“The president has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action, changing and creating his own laws and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold,” as he wrote in an op-ed for CNN.

So by making administrative decisions such as paying federal contract workers a minimum of $10.10 per hour or making last-minute adjustments to the Affordable Care Act so it works properly, Obama is circumventing the will of the American people?

Surely, even Boehner must realize how long it would take to get fixes to the health-care law through both houses of Congress. In fact, congressional Republicans would probably try to kill the Affordable Care Act if Obama and the Democrats tried to push any changes through Congress.

Also, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s a stretch to say that the will of Congress reflects the will of the American people, especially since the legislative body hasn’t had a positive approval rating since April 2003, according to Gallup poll results.

Further distancing the will of the people from legislators, voting districts for representatives in the House are also infamous for being drawn in all manner of absurd shapes to distribute voters in such a way that one party is virtually guaranteed to win that district’s seat, a process called gerrymandering.

Finally, Obama has said himself that he wouldn’t issue as many executive orders if Congress would actually carry out some of its basic functions, but it’s shown time and again that it is incapable of doing so. For instance, the nation’s infrastructure is in horrible shape. It’s been given a D-plus by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which estimates that fixing it would mean spending $3.6 trillion between now and 2020. Yet Congress has failed to engage in the simple act of repairing roads and bridges.

All that said, Boehner brings up an important point. When we have a political system that has radicalized such once “reasonable moderates” as Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley to the point that he’ll spew nonsense about how the Affordable Care Act will “pull the plug on grandma,” as he did during the health-care debate in 2009, something is definitely wrong.

As a result of extreme political polarization, Congress has found itself unable to handle even the most basic tasks. Say what you want about Obama, but if anything, he is pragmatic, or trying, which sometimes means sidestepping an uncooperative Congress to try to keep things running. Although he hasn’t gone off the rails any more than any other president before him, history reminds us that when you combine an ineffectual legislature with a pragmatic and ambitious leader, the situation can dissolve into tyranny, and most people won’t care, because they just want their government to work.

But it hasn’t gotten that bad, yet. Boehner’s threats to sue Obama are still just another sideshow in the typical claptrap we’ve come to expect from Washington, and if anything does go wrong in the future, Congress will be to blame just as much as the president.

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