WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee debated on Tuesday whether President Obama acted within his purview when he delayed the new healthcare law and changed immigration enforcement.
Republicans have accused Obama of circumventing the nation’s laws by picking and choosing which laws to enforce, and at least one expert told the committee that this could change government as the nation knows it.
From the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to the DREAM Act and more, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the Obama administration has repeatedly ignored what Congress has passed, while enacting executive orders and other exercises without congressional approval.
The U.S. Constitution imposes a duty on the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” commonly known as the “take care” clause. Obama’s past actions to delay or suspend certain portions of laws have left Republicans concerned that the president is not acting constitutionally.
“The Obama administration has ignored the Constitution’s carefully balanced separation of powers and unilaterally granted itself the extra-Constitutional authority to amend the laws and to waive or suspend their enforcement,” Goodlatte said. “The president cannot refuse to enforce a law simply because he dislikes it.”
Goodlatte said the president has made “unlawful modifications” to the ACA by selectively waiving and amending several major provisions of the healthcare law.
The president announced last month that Americans could keep non-qualifying healthcare plans for another year and suspended the ACA’s employer mandate for one year in July.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said allowing some flexibility for the implementation of a new program is “neither unusual nor a Constitutional violation.”
He said Obama has used the same discretion that all presidents have used in the past. The only difference, he said, is that Republicans do not like it.
“It is especially interesting that some members who strenuously opposed the ACA and who worked diligently to obstruct its implementation, now complain that the president is unconstitutionally impeding implementation of his signature legislative accomplishment,” Conyers said.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at the George Washington University, testified that there has been a radical expansion of presidential powers in recent years, beginning with President George W. Bush, and continuing under Obama.
“If a president can unilaterally change the meaning of laws in substantial ways, or refuse to enforce them, it takes offline that very thing that stabilizes our system,” he said.
He told members of the committee that more federal agencies growing increasingly independent could lead to the rise of a “fourth branch” of government, where federal agencies can determine their own jurisdictions.
Turley warned that if a president unilaterally enforces laws, then it will lead others to claim the same authority in the future. This, combined with the rise of more independent federal agencies, could destabilize the delicate balance between the branches of government.
If executive power should continue to expand, then Congress will become “a sad relic of what was once a tripartite system of equal branches,” he said.
“This body is becoming less and less relevant,” he added.