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OUR VIEW: By royal decree  Colorado Springs Gazette, 11/08/99 (opinion)

President sidesteps the Congress with a succession of executive orders

Congress passed a law in 1996 that authorized it to write more detailed electronic medical privacy regulations by August of this year. Then, it declined to do so. As a result, President Clinton could have taken one of two courses: He could have called members of Congress and told them he determined that, while everybody is for privacy, 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 his inclination 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 has employed the executive order mechanism often.

Pending is an order 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.

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.

Executive Order 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 orders.

It is heartening to see such concern. It would be more heartening to see some real legislative action.

Pummeling Iraq

To what end do we patrol its skies?

Late last month Agence-France Presse, the French news agency, reported that U.S. and British air strikes killed two civilians and injured seven in an air strike on what an Iraqi spokesman said were civilian facilities in northern Iraq. The U.S. military said the strikes had hit military targets as a response to anti-aircraft fire.

The week before, military authorities in the Persian Gulf region leaked stories to several U.S. and European news agencies to the effect that they were frustrated because they can find no more military targets in the "no-fly" zones and the bombing they have done to date seems to have had no impact on the political situation in Iraq.

Last Wednesday Jane's Defence Weekly reported U.S. plans to bring in more heavy-equipment barges to pre-position more equipment and weapons in the Gulf region.

"That would put enough armoured fighting vehicles, artillery and other systems in place," the magazine reported, "to equip a 50,000-strong reinforced division of four heavy brigades at short notice in the event of a new crisis with Iraq or Iran." The equipment will be placed on barges, Jane's said, because "The GCC states - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain - are reluctant to allow the equipment for a fourth brigade to be deployed on their soil." The upshot? Eight years after the end of the Gulf War, as the states in the region (the ones we're supposedly defending) start to complain, the U.S. keeps lobbing bombs at Iraq, keeps the economic embargo in place (leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis) and seemingly moves to step up the hostilities.

To what end?


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