Mystifying Bee editorial wrong on basics of Obama authority fight

As the legal blogs have long pointed out, as well as most major newspapers, the concerns about President Obama possibly abusing his executive powers are hardly off the wall. As a March 19, 2013, McClatchy news analysis noted …

— President Barack Obama came into office four years ago skeptical of pushing the power of the White House to the limit, especially if it appeared to be circumventing Congress.

Now, as he launches his second term, Obama has grown more comfortable wielding power to try to move his own agenda forward, particularly when a deeply fractured, often-hostile Congress gets in his way. … And he’s done it with a frequency that belies his original campaign criticisms of predecessor George W. Bush [and] invites criticisms that he’s bypassing the checks and balances of Congress and the courts … .

While his decision to send drones to kill U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism has garnered a torrent of criticism, his use of executive orders and other powers at home is deeper and wider.

He delayed the deportation of young illegal immigrants when Congress wouldn’t agree. He ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence, which Congress halted nearly 15 years ago. He told the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, deciding that the 1996 law defining marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. He’s vowed to act on his own if Congress didn’t pass policies to prepare for climate change.

So when the Sac Bee decided to do an editorial this week about House Speaker John Boehner considering a lawsuit against the president over his excessive use of executive authority, did the Bee mention any of this hard content from McClatchy? Yunno — from the DC bureau of the company that owns the Bee?

Nope. Embarrassingly enough, the Bee’s editorial made the flap seem as it were about “signing statements,” not rewriting existing laws. This is the lead of the editorial:

House Republican Speaker John Boehner says he’s so upset about President Barack Obama’s use of signing statements to challenge laws he and his GOP majority pass that he’s planning to sue the president for overstepping his bounds.

Boehner didn’t even mention signing statements in his remarks last week. Instead, House Republicans have consistently pointed to unilateral changes affecting billions of dollars in spending in Obamacare, and to unilateral changes to the No Child Left Behind act that the New York Times said raised the question of whether the president had “essentially nullified” the law.

These are not signing statements whining about laws Congress has passed. These are sweeping changes in statutory law made without congressional approval.

The focus on signing statements is truly bizarre. Perhaps it’s time the Sac Bee edit board was given a current events quiz.

Let’s visit with another McClatchy analysis piece, this one from Nov. 14, 2013, that has this reaction to just one of the dozen-plus unilateral major changes in Obamacare:

Nicholas Bagley, a health policy expert and law assistant professor at the University of Michigan, said Obama’s fix raised more questions than answers, from the effect on premiums to the ability of insurance commissioners to swiftly approve previously canceled plans. And, he said, it remains to be seen whether the effort is legal.

“The administration hasn’t offered a legal justification, so it’s difficult to deliver a thumbs up or thumbs down,” he said. “There’s at least a big question mark whether the president can do this.”

The legal expert is not talking about a signing statement.

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