Orange County Register | August 4, 1999
an Imperial Presidency
One of the seldom
publicized ways the power of the central government has
grown in recent decades has been through the use of
presidential Executive Orders. It didn't start with the
Clinton administration; Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 3,522
executive orders and Woodrow Wilson issued 1,803, to Bill
Clinton's almost 300. But Mr. Clinton has refined to a high
art the use of Executive Orders to put in place policies
that Congress has not and probably never would approve.
Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, along with Washington
state Republican Rep. Jack Metcalf, has introduced H.R.
2655, which would curb the power of this or any president to
issue executive orders whose scope and subject matter are
not specifically authorized by the constitution or by a law
passed by Congress. Backed by the recently formed Liberty
Study Committee, Rep. Paul and his allies hope to use the
influence of the Internet and other communications
technologies to persuade Congress to act on his bill.
An article by Catherine Edwards in the current issue of
Insight magazine (http://www.insightmag.com/articles/story4.html)
outlines the scope of the problem. For instance, although
the Kyoto treaty on global warming has not been presented to
the U.S. Senate for ratification and would almost certainly
fail if it were, the president has issued a number of
executive orders to implement specific provisions of the
In addition, last summer Executive Order 13083, which
would have established federal jurisdiction over states in
matters not enumerated in the Constitution, stirred enough
of an outcry from citizens and state and local officials
that it was rescinded.
American Heritage Rivers Initiative Executive Order 13061
designated 14 rivers as federal property, with those areas
running through private property to be seized.
President Clinton has declared 14 states of national
emergency (Bush declared five and Reagan six) inluding one
in early July based on the putative terrorist threat from
Afghanistan's government and an earlier one based on
oppression in Burma. All these "national
emergencies" give the government the power to bypass
normal legislative procedures and all are still in effect.
Rep. Paul's bill recognizes that some executive orders
might be necessary to "faithfully execute" the
laws passed by Congress, but would limit their scope to that
purpose. It would rescind all existing national emergencies
and lay out new ground rules for future executive orders.
Presidential orders to implement unratified treaties would
be illegal. It would require executive orders to declare
which provision of the Constitution or statutory law
authorizes the order and make it clear that an executive
order is not the same as a law, but that even a valid order
is "limited in its application and effect to the
executive branch. " Perhaps most important, it would
create standing for members of Congress, state officials and
private citizens to challenge executive orders they believe
go beyond constitutional bounds.
To many people all this might seem like an abstract,
esoteric tussle. But Rep. Paul believes enough Americans are
concerned about the growth of executive power to communicate
with members of Congress. "If enough members hear from
their constituents and constituencies on this subject, they
will act, even as the FDIC decided to rescind the proposed
`know your customer' regulations after hundreds of thousands
of e-mails," Rep Paul's press spokesman Michael
Sullivan told us. "If Americans don't respond, the
status quo will remain.
Some of Mr. Paul's supporters have put up a Web site
(http://www.executiveorders.org) similar to the site that
generated so many protests against the "know your
customer" proposal (which would have required banks to
report unusual activities by their customers to the feds) in
December and January.
All of Orange County's members of Congress should sign on
as co-sponsors of H.R. 2655 and of H.R. 30, by Rep. Metcalf
of Washington, to express the sense of Congress that any
executive order that infringes on the constitutional powers
of Congress would be viewed as advisory only and ineligible
for federal funds. The imperial presidency built up over
most of this century is neither inevitable nor desirable,
but it will take concerted effort to trim the arbitrary
powers presidents have grabbed.