|The Orange County
Register | November 1, 1999
When Congress, after passing a law in 1996 that authorized
it to write more detailed electronic medical privacy
regulations by August of this year, declined to do so,
President Clinton could have taken one of two courses. He
could have called members of Congress, determined that while
everybody is for privacy in general there's no consensus
about how (or whether) the federal government should issue
detailed regulations to cover a field in which the
technology and practices change almost weekly.
Or he could decide
to propose 630 pages of regulations that might or might not
protect privacy effectively by the time they're scheduled to
take effect in 2002, but will certainly increase the
paperwork and cost of providing health care.
If you know Bill
Clinton, you don't have to guess which course he took. It's
consistent with a proclivity in this presidency to issue
sweeping executive orders that change policy and, in effect,
make new law when Congress doesn't do as he wants it to do.
And since the voters have given him a Congress controlled by
the other party, he's employed the executive order mechanism
In the current
issue of U.S. News ("Washington Whispers") the
approach is called Project Podesta, after White House Chief
of Staff John Podesta. The item notes that "Clinton
plans a series of executive orders and changes to federal
rules that he can sign into law without first getting the OK
from GOP naysayers." As Podesta put it to U.S. News'
Kenneth Walsh, "There's a pretty wide sweep of things
we're looking to do, and we're going to bevery aggressive in
The new medical
privacy rules were cited as an example of this
executive-decree initiative, to be followed by an order or
regulation to force private companies to provide paid leave
to parents to take care of newborns.
As former Clinton
adviser Paul Begala told the New York Times in July 1998,
regarding executive orders: "Stroke of the pen. Law of
the land. Kinda cool."
Right -- if you're
an absolute monarch rather than an executive officer in a
constitutionally limited government in which the legislature
makes new laws and the executive carries them out.
used executive orders, sometimes abusively, since George
Washington (Teddy Roosevelt began the modern tradition of
extensive use of the power). Clinton has used executive
orders to contravene Congress often. Presidential Decision
Directive 25 authorized the U.S. military to be moved under
U.N. command without congressional approval. Executive Order
12919 (one of 13 national emergencies still officially in
effect, some declared by the Carter administration) gives
the federal government vast powers to seize property and
control the means of production and require all citizens to
register with the U.S. Post Office.
13139, quietly signed the day after congressional hearings
into a controversial Pentagon decision to require U.S.
military personnel to be inoculated with anthrax vaccine,
denies soldiers the right to refuse experimental vaccines.
The vaccine in question has not been approved by the Food
and Drug Administration. If a private company ordered its
employees to take a shot or medicine not approved by the
FDA, it would probably be prosecuted.
Two committees of
the House, a Rules subcommittee and a Judiciary
subcommittee, responding to constituent concerns (see
http://www.ExecutiveOrders.org) held hearings last week on
executive orders. Three different bills to rein in
government by decree have been introduced. The best is HR
2655, from Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, which would
prohibit a presidential order from having the effect of law,
suspend states of national emergency and give individuals
standing to challenge the constitutionality of executive
It is heartening to
see such concern. It would be more heartening to see some
real legislative action.