One curse of being a two-term president is that in your last two years, you must endure a conversation about whether you’re still relevant. For Barack Obama, that conversation is about to go kick into high gear. The pundits will observe, correctly, that his legislative agenda has little chance of moving through the new Congress, although that’s been true since 2011, of course.
So what is the path to progress for Barack Obama in these last two years of his administration? By what means can he add to his legacy, one that includes monumental health care reform, saving the economy, salvaging the automobile industry, subjecting the financial sector to some much needed regulation, and more? And how can anything of use be accomplished with a Congress dead-set against cooperation?
Actually, it’s quite straightforward, and we’ve been urging it on him for a couple years now. The President needs to follow up on his oft-uttered commitment to use executive power to do the people’s business. He doesn’t need to strain the boundaries of his authority one bit. He simply needs to send the clear message to the various departments of government, particularly those engaged in regulation, to get moving. And he needs to make sure that his own White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs contributes to the effort.
Across the federal government and in the White House itself, various agencies have been moving key regulations at a pace that varies from a crawl to a saunter. Now it’s time, past time, really, to start the final sprint to the finish line.
Rules addressing worker safety, climate change, food safety, environmental protection and more are in various stages of the regulatory pipeline. It’s time to move them through, and get them to final form — not by January 19, 2017, but by mid-2016, so that they won’t be subject to easy repeal by a new President.
On Friday, CPR will release a new report identifying 13 such regulatory actions — the essential 13, as we think of them — that the Obama Administration can and should get to the finish line, if the President is willing to put his foot on the gas.
He knows he can’t get anything of use through Congress, and in fact, he’ll be playing defense against them. But that needn’t distract him from pressing rules to protect Americans and the environment from a variety of long-recognized hazards.
When it comes to moving these specific regulations, the Legislative Branch did most of its work when it passed the laws undergirding these regulations, thus obligating the President to enforce them. Congress continues to have a legitimate oversight role, but short of passing new legislation that repeals the underlying law(s), and short of attaching riders to must-pass funding bills — steps that would require a presidential signature or a veto override — Congress has comparatively little role in the process from here, and very few tools available to impede the Administration, if the President chooses to act.
Republicans can and surely will hold hearings that give a platform to their industry supporters to rail against regulations. They can ratchet up political pressure in a variety of ways. They can even attach anti-regulation riders to must-past funding bills, if they choose. But they can’t legislate away public safeguards without the President’s signature, and they can’t block regulations with hearings and hot air.
So on the domestic front, the President can still do good and important things — things he was elected on a promise to do, in fact. He simply needs the will.
Watch this space on Friday morning for specifics on the Essential 13 Rules.