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Clinton's campaign to end-run Congress
He's making policy changes by executive order

By Kenneth T. Walsh, U.S. News Online, 6/26/00

President Clinton keeps on keepin' on, even though most Americans are tuning him out. In the past few weeks, with little fanfare, he has resumed issuing a stream of directives, executive orders, and other federal rules affecting millions of lives and framing issues for the fall election.

What the president is interested in is getting things done," says White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who argues that congressional Republicans have refused to enact many of his priorities, so he must go it alone. Podesta told U.S. News that Clinton is simply using the legal tools available to any president. (Franklin Roosevelt, in office for 12 years, issued more than 3,700 executive orders, and Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover each issued more than 1,000.)

But Clinton's activism has left GOP leaders sputtering. House Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas calls it a stealth campaign to circumvent Congress. And a key staffer for House Government Reform Subcommittee Chairman David McIntosh of Indiana says: "It's the nature of the executive orders that's the problem. Some are substantive, some are devious." And in important cases, the aide contends, Clinton's actions are unconstitutional and represent "the Democratic big-government philosophy."

Clinton has issued 451 directives since he took office in 1993. He has issued 40 on the environment, 23 on health care, 14 on civil rights, and 54 to improve management and government efficiency, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The pace seems to be increasing. On June 10, he announced that states can now pay unemployment benefits to parents who take time off from work to care for newborns. Congressional Republicans condemned it as an illegal "power grab" that could jeopardize the solvency of state unemployment-insurance trust funds.

On June 9, Clinton invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare large areas of federal land national monuments in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State. Earlier, he used the act to create vast new protected areas at the Grand Canyon and in California.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington, complained that the president was falsely claiming that an emergency endangered the tracts, and that federal initiatives should have been coordinated with state leaders and local residents. Opponents vowed to block the designations in Congress–and roll back other edicts.

Crowd pleasers. Yet even if they are eventually thwarted, Clinton's initiatives have highlighted issues that will be important to the Democrats, especially Vice President Al Gore, this fall. White House advisers say the public overwhelmingly supports the policies Clinton is pursuing, according to Democratic polls.

At least some of his actions seem targeted to key constituencies. He won praise from environmentalists in California and other Western states because of his initiatives to protect land and water there. He courted suburban parents, especially married women, by authorizing the unemployment benefits for newborn care. He appealed to the elderly by authorizing Medicare to cover most costs of clinical trials that test new drugs and medical treatments. And Clinton impressed organized labor by raising U.S. import duties on steel pipe and wire rod.

"While all presidents are politicians by definition, we just assume that everything that President Clinton does is political," says political scientist Steve Hess of the Brookings Institution. "But on the other hand, there is gridlock and he does want to accomplish things."

Either way, White House aides say Clinton will continue issuing such directives until he no longer has the power to do so–in January 2001.


 

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