Power of the Pen

Last week President Obama used a strategy that should become an important part of his leadership going forward.  On February 18, he issued an executive order creating a bipartisan commission on addressing the budget deficit, after the Senate failed to enact legislation that would have done so.  Whatever one thinks of the commission’s mission or likely recommendations, the order should represent a rediscovery of the power of the presidency.

Perhaps because he came to the White House directly from the Senate, the President has been overly reliant on that body to achieve his goals.  It goes without saying that the Senate is dysfunctional and divided—by contrast, the House has passed superior versions of many of the President’s legislative priorities, only to see more anemic version die at the other end of the building.  But while the Senate is crucial to federal legislation, and federal legislation is crucial to transformative change on many issues, such as health care, financial regulation, and immigration reform, presidents wield tremendous power as presidents through their constitutional authority as executive.  The executive order is a prime example.

President Obama has issued some 42 Executive Orders since he took office.  But the Deficit Commission order served as a public notice—or at least it should—that the President stands ready to move solutions forward, within constitutional limits, when the Legislative Branch fails to act.

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