The Corner

Politics & Policy

Executive Unilateralism on Health Care

A defining feature of Barack Obama’s presidency was the rise of executive unilateralism. Obama, frustrated with the procedural constraints that govern America’s government, took several executive actions on his own that amounted to legislation by presidential fiat. Some of these actions, like DACA and DAPA, were justified on the basis of prosecutorial discretion, while others, like certain financial and environmental regulations, were implemented via federal agencies. But in practice, these initiatives amounted to material changes to the law that were instituted without congressional approval. They amounted, in other words, to the President’s usurpation of Congress’s constitutional role. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of [my] acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said in 2014.

Conservatives rightly attacked this practice as an abuse of executive power that was pernicious to the constitutional order. “That the constitutional system will not acquiesce in its own debilitation is not a justification for debilitating it,” Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin wrote in National Review. Obama was frustrated with the intransigence of congressional Republicans, and took matters into his own hands. But that’s not how the American system should work, and that’s not how laws should be made.

Today, the president will engage in executive unilateralism of his own. Donald Trump will sign an executive order directing agencies to revisit some of the health-care regulations imposed by the Affordable Care Act. “Since Congress can’t get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people — FAST,” he tweeted yesterday morning. If that sounds familiar, it should: The president, whose agenda is constrained by the Constitution (and, arguably, the ongoing decay of our political institutions), is taking matters into his own hands.

The policy Trump will implement may have its merits: Current regulations on who can join association health plans are onerous, and rewriting those will orient the health-care system in a freer direction. But the process by which he is implementing it does not. Executive unilateralism is wrong irrespective of the executive.

Most Popular

World

On Trade, No One Is Waiting for Washington

President Donald Trump’s flips and flops on trade are now as ubiquitous as his 5:00 a.m. tweets. Many predicted that trade-expansion efforts would come to a standstill and world commerce would suffer amidst all the uncertainty. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. In the last few months, it’s become ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Trump’s Syria Quandary

President Trump raised eyebrows recently when he ended a tweet lauding the airstrikes he’d ordered against chemical-weapons facilities in Syria with the words “mission accomplished.” The phrase, of course, became infamous in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, when President Bush used it in a speech ... Read More
U.S.

Confirm Pompeo

What on earth are the Democrats doing? President Trump has nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo, eminently qualified by any reasonable standard, to be America’s 70th secretary of state. And yet the Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have perverted the advice and consent clause of the Constitution into a ... Read More
PC Culture

People Are Losing Their Minds Over Starbucks

We can all easily imagine circumstances in which a manager of a coffee shop or restaurant might properly call the police to ask them to remove loiterers. These are places of business. There’s nothing wrong in principle with calling the cops on non-customers who are taking up space. And there’s nothing wrong ... Read More
PC Culture

The Dark Side of the Starbucks Stand-Down

By now the story is all over America. Earlier this month, two black men entered a Starbucks store in Philadelphia. They were apparently waiting for a friend before ordering — the kind of thing people do every day — and one of the men asked to use the restroom. A Starbucks employee refused, saying the restroom ... Read More