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February 02, 2014

Washington Week: Focus on Obama's Executive Authority

by Michael Bowman

A top Republican lawmaker is blasting U.S. President Barack Obama as “lawless” in his use of executive orders to advance policy goals in the absence of congressional action.  Additional clues are emerging as to whether or not 2014 will be a year of action in Washington, as the president urged in last week’s State of the Union address.

Since Tuesday’s speech before Congress,  Obama has repeated his determination to fight the income gap between rich and poor Americans and to boost the beleaguered middle class.

“It is time to restore opportunity for all people," the president said.  "The idea that no matter who you are, if you work hard and live up to your responsibilities, you can make it if you try.  Wherever I can take steps to expand opportunity for more families on my own, I will.”

Already, Obama has ordered a hike in the minimum wage for federal contract workers.  His use of executive authority is provoking a strong reaction from Republicans.

“We have an increasingly lawless presidency, where he [Obama] is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and new laws without going through Congress. Presidents do not write laws.  Congress does,” Congressman Paul Ryan said during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" program.

Republicans say, instead of resorting to unilateral action, the president needs to embrace bills already passed in the House of Representatives, like a measure to improve worker training. 

“The SKILLS Act would consolidate the dozens of job training programs on the books and put the focus on programs that work.  Programs that actually lead to jobs," noted Congresswoman Susan Brooks.

But only a small percentage of bills passed by the Republican-led House are approved by the Democratic-led Senate, and vice-versa.  The president has no choice but to act on his own when possible, says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“During the years I have been leader of the Senate, there have been 470 filibusters [blocking maneuvers] by the Republicans," Reid said. "Is it any wonder that the president is going to do some things administratively because of the logjam that we have?”

Even so, there could be some bipartisanship this year.  House Republicans are considering a set of limited proposals to reform America’s immigration system, a central element of President Obama’s agenda since coming to office.