Executive Abuse and Overreach Cannot Continue

Published: Jan 13, 2016

Author: Jason Chaffetz

Publication: CNN

After listening to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, I came away with this question: What does a president do when he thinks he is right and the people he governs are wrong?

He issues executive orders and actions instead of working with the people’s elected representatives.

He imposes burdensome and expensive regulations to bypass the lawmaking process.

He conceals information from the public through a culture that encourages an unlawful presumption of secrecy.

He misuses government to target the First Amendment rights of Americans with viewpoints other than his own.

He limits access to information for federal inspectors general, the agency watchdogs charged with combating waste, fraud, and abuse and rooting out corruption in government.

This is the playbook of the Obama administration. It is unilateral, overreaching and unconstitutional. Left unchecked, it is behavior that undermines, and will ultimately erode, the foundation of our democracy and our freedom.

The Founding Fathers clearly understood that a concentration of power by one entity or one individual was a threat to personal liberty. So they designed the three branches of government — separate and with different responsibilities — with this in mind. By its simplest definition, the legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch enforces the laws and the judicial branch interprets the laws.

That’s not what’s happening with the Obama administration.

As James Madison warned in the Federalist Papers, “It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.”

Yet just last week, joining the more than 20 executive actions already issued by the President on gun control, another round was unleashed on the public.

The President’s boldness appears to be growing with each swipe of the pen. In this instance, he seems to believe that he alone can rewrite longstanding medical privacy laws that protect all Americans’ health records. But he can’t. It requires legislation — a power not assigned to the president.

One of the more egregious acts by the President to expand his jurisdiction was the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to redefine the “Waters of the United States” through an opaque rulemaking process. The rule, currently under a court injunction, was a blatant effort by the President to assert his will over the private property rights of countless Americans.

When the President isn’t single-handedly issuing edicts negatively impacting the citizenry, he’s hiding information the public is entitled to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act. But access to information is a central tool for an efficient government that works for its citizens. Without transparency, an unchecked executive operating in the dark develops with no accountability to the people who fund it.

Despite President Obama’s rallying cry to be the “most transparent administration in history,” the reality of excessive delays, abusive fees and inappropriate redactions in the Freedom of Information Act process subvert access to information.

Further, in limiting inspectors general access to agency records, the President, in the words of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, allows “government agencies to shield their misdeeds from inspector general oversight and, more importantly, from the American people.”

Americans are rightfully frustrated by this lack of transparency from a government they are routinely asked to trust with their safety and security.

Examples of Obama’s overreach, lack of transparency and absence of accountability appear to be endless. It seems there is no part of our life over which he does not seek to impose his will.

The last seven years are a cautionary tale. This is not the right path for America. We must recognize this period as the dangerous precedent it is and collectively — through the legislative branch, judiciary branch and the public — work to return the executive branch to the limited role the framers intended.

The Constitution of the Unites States begins with “We the People,” not “I the President.” We elect presidents, not kings, in the United States. It would behoove us all to remind Mr. Obama of those facts, because every new power seized by government is an individual freedom lost. As such, this pattern of executive abuse and overreach cannot continue.

The state of our union depends on it.