President Obama and his supporters are pushing back against conservative claims that he is abusing his executive power by bypassing congressional Republicans who have blocked his agenda.
"Creating a big ruckus on this is absurd," Joel Benenson, Obama's pollster, told me. Benenson said presidents' use of executive power has been "part of our history" since the beginning of the Republic. Benenson and other Obama defenders say Obama has used these powers less frequently than some of his recent predecessors or is on par with them.
Benenson and his colleagues are correct. Obama issued 168 orders during his first five years in office, compared with 291 for George W. Bush during eight years; 364 for Bill Clinton in eight years; 166 for George H.W. Bush during four years, 381 for Ronald Reagan in eight years, and 320 for Jimmy Carter in four years, according to the American Presidency Project. Franklin Roosevelt issued the most executive orders by far–3,522 during 12 years.
But this hasn't stopped Republicans and their allies from complaining that Obama is abusing his authority. "It leads to additional Washington dysfunction," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a conservative economist and former director of the Congressional Budget Office. He told Politico, "With every new stretching of the boundary of executive authority, the president alienates Congress and makes it that much more difficult to get ordinary things done."
Obama critics also point out that, when one considers the broad range of executive agencies and departments, not just executive orders from the president, the administration's unilateral activism is very extensive. These actions include the Labor Department's finalizing a regulation to require federal contractors to hire more people with disabilities; an Energy Department regulation increasing the efficiency of microwave ovens, and the Environmental Protection Agency's current writing of rules to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to lessen global warming.
A recent Politico analysis found that, "In [Obama's] first term, his administration enacted 246 regulations classified as 'economically significant,' meaning they carry an economic impact of more than $100 million. That's considerably more than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton enacted in either of their terms The Obama administration has added another 54 economically significant regulations so far in his second term. Many are connected to the [new] health care law or [the] Dodd-Frank [banking law].'"
Last week, Obama said in his State of the Union address that if Republicans in Congress continue to block his initiatives, he will use his executive powers to circumvent them. To that end, he announced an executive order increasing the minimum wage for some government contract workers. He said he and his administration are fully empowered to take these steps, and his aides argue that the country wants him to make 2014 a "year of action."