the power of the president's pen
Authority: More than most modern presidents, Bill
Clinton has turned to executive orders and other
tools to enact policies without congressional
Sun National Staff
WASHINGTON -- Racing against time and a hostile
Congress, President Clinton has recently launched a
barrage of executive decisions -- from combating
medical errors to cutting emissions from sport
utility vehicles -- that has rankled political
opponents and raised eyebrows among presidential
president has issued more than 310 executive orders
in his seven years in office, close to the pace set
by Ronald Reagan, who signed 381 orders in his two
rise in the number of Clinton's orders might
understate the sweep of his executive
decision-making, because Clinton -- more than most
modern presidents -- has found other creative ways
to enact his policies without congressional
for example, the president unveiled the final form
of regulations that will force oil refiners to
produce cleaner fuels, while mandating that
sport-utility vehicles and minivans comply with
emissions limits set for cars.
called the regulations "the boldest steps in a
generation to clean the air we breathe by improving
the cars we drive." To effect those steps, he
stretched to the limit the authority granted to the
Environmental Protection Agency by the 1990 Clean
you're a conservative, you would say this is above
and beyond what the Clean Air Act was meant to
do," said Jake Siewert, a White House
executive actions have taken more novel routes.
Presidential proclamations were once reserved for
such trifling acts as pardoning a turkey before
has used proclamations to establish the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, and
to buy thousands of acres of wilderness, from
California's deserts to Florida's Everglades. The
White House said Clinton's authority derived from
Theodore Roosevelt's Antiquities Act of 1906.
the president directed the Forest Service to ban
roads in more than 50 million acres of pristine
wilderness, a move that required neither
congressional approval nor the formal apparatus of
an executive order.
month, Clinton unveiled regulations designed to
reduce medical errors. Hospitals and doctors must
comply with the new regulations in order to
participate in the health insurance program for
federal employees that covers 85 million Americans.
The order came in the form of a memorandum to his
has challenged the tobacco industry with a federal
lawsuit, while threatening the gun industry with
been fairly unapologetic about finding ways to act
where we've found that Congress hasn't acted,"
averaged just over 44 executive orders a year, more
than George Bush's 40 but fewer than Reagan's 47 and
far fewer than Jimmy Carter's 74, according to
National Archives statistics. All the presidents of
the modern era pale in comparison with Franklin D.
Roosevelt, who issued 567 executive orders in 1933
Clinton, those numbers could be deceptive, because
he has turned other tools at his disposal -- such as
presidential proclamations and Cabinet directives --
into true policy-making instruments, said Ken Mayer,
a political scientist at the University of
Wisconsin, whose book on executive orders,
"With the Stroke of a Pen," will be
published next year.
Republican Congress openly hostile to Clinton,
"he has quite naturally looked to other options
to establish a legacy," Mayer said.
aides are unabashed about their creative use of such
powers. John D. Podesta, the president's chief of
staff, taught courses on legislative and regulatory
affairs at Georgetown University law school and is
"well-versed on the options," Siewert
Republicans say they are incensed by what they see
as an end run around the Congress.
M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, declared this
week that he would block every administration
nominee to the federal bench for the rest of
Clinton's term in protest of the recent
reappointment of a member of the National Labor
Relations Board without the Senate's consent.
McCain of Arizona, a leading candidate for the
Republican presidential nomination, vowed Monday to
overturn Clinton's ban on new wilderness roads.
Republican presidential hopeful, Gary Bauer, a
former Reagan administration official, declared last
month: "My first policy act would be to repeal
as many of Clinton's executive orders as I could.
This president has abused that power."
In point of
fact, Reagan -- a hero to many of today's leading
Republicans -- issued more executive orders than any
president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, and many had
profound consequences, Mayer said.
Clinton, presidents have wielded their executive
authority to profound effect. Abraham Lincoln freed
the slaves by executive order. Franklin Roosevelt
interned Americans of Japanese descent during World
War II. The origins of affirmative action date to an
order by Lyndon B. Johnson that set aside a portion
of government contracts for minority-owned
vowed to overturn the Johnson-era affirmative action
orders. But political opposition persuaded top
Reagan aides that a repeal was not worth the
overstepped his authority in the past. An executive
order to ban the replacement of strikers on federal
projects was thrown out in court. But Mayer
predicted that most of the orders that remain on the
books -- especially Clinton's land-protection orders
-- will prove difficult to overturn.
a lot harder to take something away than to not give
it in the first place," Mayer said.
published on Dec 22 1999