Executive overreach is a problem that endures because neither major political party has any incentive to do anything about it.
When Barack Obama was in the White House, Republicans bristled at the thought of his doing an end run around the GOP-controlled Congress simply by picking up “a phone and a pen.”
Now that Donald Trump is president, Democrats are concerned that he can shift money around seemingly at will simply by declaring a state of emergency — for example, moving funding from military construction projects.
And there is some discontent in both parties over Trump’s using national security as a pretext to unilaterally hike tariffs pretty much wherever he sees fit. But it has yet to result in veto-proof majorities in Congress to take back some of the trade powers the legislative branch has delegated to the executive.
Having seen what a too-powerful executive can do to their agenda, one might think the Democrats now running for president would be wary of the imperial presidency, but most of them simply can’t wait to get their hands on it.
It seems like almost everyone running for president has a list of sweeping changes they plan to enact on Day 1 of their term.
Sen. Kamala Harris is a prime example, having said that she will ban certain semi-automatic rifles and repeal Trump’s tax cut bill on “Day 1” of her presidency.
Of course, she will do neither. Both actions would require — at a minimum — congressional approval.
To his credit, former Vice President Joe Biden has challenged his opponents, and Harris in particular, about their grandiose “Day 1” promises, and during last week’s Democratic presidential debate, one of the moderators challenged Harris to respond to Biden’s criticism. Of the Democratic field, only Biden seems aware the Constitution might be an issue.
Harris’ response was telling. She simply giggled and challenged Biden to say “yes we can” instead of “no we can’t,” referring to the mantra of then-candidate Obama’s first campaign for president.
But Harris certainly isn’t the only one making campaign promises dependent on continued abuse of executive powers. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are both promising, if not a continuation of President Trump’s antagonistic trade policies, then at least their own versions.
What’s really needed is a Congress that will take back some of the powers it has, over the decades, ceded to the executive branch. The presidency has too much power, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.
Unfortunately, little will change as long as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues his short-sighted campaign of obstruction and inaction with regard to any proposal to claw back even the slightest bit of congressional authority.
Nor will anything change as long as those seeking to replace the incumbent president are too tempted by the powers they would inherit to think about the future — when their party will once again be on the outside looking in.