to Bypass Congress in Blitz of Executive Orders
will use strategy to move his domestic agenda past GOP
resistance. He starts today with announcement of warning
labels for unpasteurized juices.
Times Staff Writer
Frustrated by a
GOP-controlled Congress that lately has rebuffed him on
almost every front, President Clinton plans a blitz of
executive orders during the next few weeks, part of a White
House strategy to make progress on Clinton's domestic agenda
with or without congressional help.
His first unilateral strike will come today. According to
a draft of Clinton's weekly radio address obtained by The
Times, he plans to announce a new federal regulation
requiring warning labels on containers of fruit and
vegetable juices that have not been pasteurized. Congress
has not fully funded Clinton's $101-million food safety
initiative, which among other things would pay for
inspectors to ensure that tainted foods from other countries
do not reach American consumers.
After that initiative, Clinton will take executive
actions later in the week that are intended to improve
health care and cut juvenile crime, according to a senior
White House official. While not far-reaching, Clinton's
proposals are intended to make gradual progress on largely
popular social reforms until Republicans in Congress start
to cooperate--or lose power after the November elections.
"He's ready to work with Congress if they will work
with him. But if they choose partisanship, he will choose
progress," said Rahm Emanuel, senior policy advisor to
The power to issue executive orders originally was
intended to give presidents rule-making authority over the
executive branch. But many have used it instead for sweeping
public policy decisions.
Fresh from what aides view as a triumphant trip to China,
Clinton is reportedly eager to exercise his executive powers
to the hilt.
"He always comes back from these trips with a big
head of steam, and this trip has been especially
remarkable," said Paul Begala, another senior advisor.
"This president has a very strong sense of the powers
of the presidency, and is willing to use all of them."
Mindful of the recent Supreme Court decision striking
down the line-item veto authority Clinton won last term, the
president also hopes his executive-order offensive will
pressure Congress to enact his legislative priorities,
Emanuel said. "I am doing what I can to protect our
families from contaminated food," Clinton says in the
draft of today's radio address. "But Congress must do
The latest series of executive orders is illustrative of
a president who has used his unilateral authority more
robustly and frequently than most of his predecessors.
Just last month, after the Senate rejected sweeping
anti-smoking legislation, Clinton announced a survey on what
cigarette brands teenagers smoke--in hopes of shaming the
tobacco companies into getting serious about cutting teen
On the same day, eager to make health care fixes that
Congress has not, he announced new coverage under the
Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and
charged federal agencies with signing up millions more poor
children for Medicaid.
Some in Congress have argued that Clinton's use of
executive authority has gone too far, and several outside
critics agree. "Clinton is pushing the envelope,"
says David Schoenbrod, a professor at New York Law School
who is an expert is the field. "He's consistently
trying to take more power than Congress gives him.".
With most of his executive orders, no matter how
incremental, Clinton hopes to prod Congress to pass more
ambitious versions. For instance, last year he extended
broader family leave provisions for federal employees while
pushing Congress to pass legislation to provide similar
opportunities for all other workers.
Clinton forewarned the country about his zeal for
exercising executive powers in his 1992 acceptance speech at
the Democratic National Convention, saying: "President
Bush: If you won't use your power to help people, step
aside, I will."
Of course, other presidents have used executive authority
to meet their policy goals. Abraham Lincoln used it to
declare the slaves free. Franklin D. Roosevelt used it to
help set up the New Deal. Harry S. Truman used it to
integrate the armed forces.
But Clinton has rewritten the manual on how to use
executive powers with gusto, some professors and analysts
argue. His formula includes pressing the limits of his
regulatory authority, signing executive orders and using
other unilateral means to obtain his policy priorities when
Congress fails to embrace them.
Clearly, the growing antagonism between the president and
Congress makes it likely that Clinton will continue to
govern by fiat.
"It depends on the political environment whether
presidents push their limits or not," said Marci
Hamilton, professor of constitutional law at Cardozo Law
School in New York. "Clinton has more incentive to do
it because he's stuck with a Congress that is not
politically aligned with him."
This is all the more true this year, since Congress feels
empowered to ignore the president as a result of the legal
crisis he faces because of independent counsel Kenneth W.
"This president has extraordinary lame-duck
status," Hamilton added. "There is very little
incentive for Congress to go along with him. A president who
has a strong working relationship and looks powerful to
Congress is less likely to push the limits."
But analysts charge that Congress continues to create the
problem by ceding so much authority to the president. In one
recent example, Congress directed the Federal Communications
Commission to subsidize the wiring of schools, libraries and
rural health care facilities for high-speed Internet access,
but did not provide the money to do so. Now it blames the
FCC for passing on costs to telephone companies, which are
in turn passing on costs to consumers.
"The bottom line is the Congress gave the
administration power to do this. But they'd like to have it
both ways," said Jeremy Taylor. "They want to say:
'I voted for universal Internet service, but I did not vote
for a tax hike to pay for it.' It's this lack of
responsibility on the part of Congress that has transformed