Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shaheen Turns

Facing an increasingly competitive Senate reelection race against Scott Brown, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen appears to be trying to put some distance between herself and the president's rumored executive actions on immigration, according to the Boston Herald:
Shaheen “would not support a piecemeal approach issued by executive order,” said her spokesman Shripal Shah, adding the Granite State incumbent “believes Congress must address our broken immigration system with a comprehensive fix.”
Shaheen, who had previously voiced a wait-and-see approach to the impending executive action from the president, joins a number of at-risk Democrats who are urging the president to leave immigration reform to lawmakers.
Other Democratic Senators who have spoken against President Obama going it alone on immigration include Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), and Mark Pryor (AR).  The bipartisan drumbeat of opposition to executive overreach grows.  (See also this AP story on how the administration is trying to justify issuing executive orders that the president himself admitted until a few months ago that he did not have the power to issue.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Media Criticism of Executive Supremacy Growing

Over at the Corner, I offer a round-up of some of the recent media criticisms of President Obama's potential executive orders on immigration:
Throughout the summer, numerous voices across the political spectrum have warned against President Obama taking sweeping executive action on immigration. While the New York Times editorial board has endorsed executive supremacy on immigration, many other publications have been more skeptical, fearing the constitutional as well as immediate practical implications of the president going alone on immigration policy. The Washington Post argued earlier in August that Congressional resistance “doesn’t grant the president license to tear up the Constitution” and warned against ramming through immigration reform via an executive order, points echoed by Charles Lane and Jonathan Chait (neither of whom are exactly fire-breathing right-wingers).
You can read the rest here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Activists Rally for Executive Action on Immigration

A couple news stories today suggest that some activists are hoping for the president to act unilaterally on immigration and other matters over the next week or so.  The Hill notes that Congress has been left out of the loop in White House deliberations on executive action:
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), said in an interview on Friday that he expects that, now Obama is back from vacation, “there’ll be some additional consultation with members of Congress, specifically CHC, [about] what we’re looking at.”
He said nothing had been scheduled, however, adding that since Congress left for the August recess, he’s had “really no indication” of what the administration is thinking.
Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the major proponents of executive action and the Gang of Eight's approach to immigration legislation, is raising expectations, telling the US to "get ready" for big action.

After a troubling few weeks for the White House, perhaps allies of the administration are trying to offer a few trial balloons about a further expansion of executive authority.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Middle Class Still Struggling

The Upshot draws attention to a new report suggesting that the median household income has, when adjusted for inflation, fallen about 3% since the middle of 2009.  And it is has fallen even farther from where it was in the early 2000s.  In 2000, the median household income was well over $56,000 in 2014 dollars; it is now below $54,000.  Stagnating---and outright declining---incomes may cause many American families to be pessimistic about the economy.

Granite State Closing

A new WMUR Granite State poll shows that Scott Brown may be closing the gap between himself and incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.  Shaheen now leads 46-44 (within the margin of error); an earlier WMUR poll had Shaheen with a 12-point lead.  Guy Benson and Michael Warren suggest that Brown's attacks on Shaheen over her support for the Gang of Eight bill and over President Obama's rumored unilateral action on immigration may be part of the reason for this shift.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Americans Wary of Executive-First Strategy

A new poll put out by Kellyanne Conway suggests that Americans do not want the president to go it alone on immigration.  According to this poll, only 21% of Americans would prefer President Obama to act alone on immigration.  Even 56% of Democrats do not want the president to change immigration policy unilaterally.

Contrary to the White House and the Gang of Eight, 75% of Americans think that employers in need of workers should raise their wages and improve working conditions in order to attract workers; only 8% say that these employers should be able to bring in foreign workers to fill job openings.  Americans of all types agree that the government should work to protect the interests of American workers.

Michael Warren has some more points about this poll here.

Government by Secrecy

As President Obama contemplates using radically expansive executive authority on a host of issues, the New York Times focuses on how an executive-first government structure could lead to increased secrecy.  On immigration, the Times reports that the administration's debates have "been conducted almost entirely behind closed doors, where lobbyists and interest groups invited to the White House are making their case out of public view."

And it looks as though the administration is aggressively looking for areas in which to expand its executive authority:
On a host of issues, the list of requests is growing. Technology companies would like Mr. Obama to provide more visas for their workers, or at least more flexibility for them and their families as they await green cards for permanent residency. Consumer groups and organized labor want the Treasury Department to act on its own to limit financial incentives for companies that move overseas for tax breaks and stop so-called inversions...

The go-it-alone approach has left the administration — which claims to be the most transparent in United States history — essentially making policy from the White House, replacing congressional hearings and floor debates with closed meetings for invited constituencies. ​
It seems as though some at the Times could be becoming aware of the deeper Constitutional implications of unchecked executive authority.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kay Hagan on Amnesty

Matthew Boyle reminds us that, back when she was campaigning, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan (D) said that she was against "amnesty" and emphasized the importance of border security.  Boyle finds that her record might not live up to these campaign-trail promises.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Against "Administrative Amnesty"

The Heritage Foundation's Derrick Morgan and David Inserra respond to the Obama administration's rumored "administrative amnesty":
President Barack Obama is considering using prosecutorial discretion to effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants. Doing so would be unjust and costly and would encourage more illegal immigration. Congress should discourage the Administration from considering this divisive and unproductive step, which would only make it more difficult to implement suitable, feasible, and just immigration reforms and more robust and effective border security.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wonks on Immigration

In National Review, Yuval Levin and Reihan Salam argue for a "middle ground" on immigration reform.  They argue that "essential components of the recurring elite proposal are a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants; more immigration by the highly skilled; and a guest-worker program, combined with other significant increases in immigration by less-skilled workers, to help employers hold down wages."  In contrast to this approach, Levin and Salam propose a "package of reforms [that] would consist of legalization without a path to citizenship for those here illegally, and a gradual rebalancing of legal immigration toward higher-skilled workers and away from extended-family unification, temporary workers, and lower-skilled immigrants."  Crucially, they find that increased enforcement should precede some of these reforms.

In the past, I've been skeptical about proposals for legalization without a path to citizenship, but Levin and Salam make some interesting points.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Neofeudalism Redux

Over at the Daily Beast, Joel Kotkin posts an excerpt from his forthcoming book, The New Class Conflict.  Kotkin argues that the hollowing out of the middle class has deep cultural and political implications:
This notion of American opportunity has ebbed and flowed, but generally gained ground well into the 1960s and 1970s. The very fact that the United States was more demographically dynamic, notes Thomas Piketty, naturally reduced the role of inherited wealth compared to Europe, most notably in France, where population growth was slower. Mass prosperity hit a high point in America in the first decades after the Second World War, the period where the country achieved its highest share of world GDP at some forty percent. By the mid-1950s the percentage of households earning middle incomes doubled to 60 percent compared with the boom years of the 1920s. By 1962 over 60 percent of Americans owned their own homes; the increase in homeownership, notes Stephanie Coontz, between 1946 and 1956 was greater than that achieved in the preceding century and a half.
But today, after decades of expanding property ownership, the middle orders—what might be seen as the inheritors of Jefferson’s yeoman class—now appear in a secular retreat. Homeownership, which peaked in 2002 at nearly 70 percent, has dropped, according to the U.S. Census, to 65 percent in 2013, the lowest in almost two decade. Although some of this may be seen as a correction for the abuses of the housing bubble, rising costs, stagnant incomes and a drop off of younger first time buyers suggest that ownership may continue to fall in years ahead.
Earlier this summer, I used Kotkin's work to explore the risks of a potential neofeudalism.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Debating Executive Supremacy

This weekend, the New York Times editorial board embraced the cause of executive supremacy, sneering at bipartisan objections that a sweeping executive order by President Obama on immigration could have significant Constitutional implications.

Many on the left, though, maintain some skepticism about radically empowering the executive branch to nullify laws.  Drawing attention to the importance of norms for maintaining a constitutional republic, Jonathan Chait writes:
I fully support Obama’s immigration policy goals. But the defenses of Obama’s methods seem weak and short-sighted.
To imagine how this method might be dangerous, you have to abstract it away from the specific end it advances and consider another administration using similar methods for policies liberals might not like. What if a Republican president announced that he would stop enforcing the payment of estate taxes? Or suspend enforcement of regulations on industrial pollution? Or laws on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians?
Noah Rothman has more thoughts here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pundits Beginning to Turn?

In response to concerns raised about possible executive overreach by the Obama administration, some pundits are now speaking up.

At Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle, writes:
Am I saying that the dark night of fascism will descend upon us all if Obama goes forward with this? Of course not. There is a lot of ruin in a nation; American presidents have tried these sorts of power grabs before, from the suspension of habeas corpus to court packing to, I dunno, Richard Nixon’s whole last year in office. But do you know why the dark night of fascism never descended? Because long before we got to that point, honorable politicians, journalists and citizens said “Enough.” It’s time for all of us to say that again, loud enough for President Obama to hear it.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Chuck Lane, a former New Republic editor, concedes that the "broadest measure Obama is considering would be constitutionally dubious, politically explosive and flatly contradictory to his own recently expressed views."

National Journal's Ron Fournier said yesterday of a potential executive power grab by President Obama that it "would be a nuclear bomb that would blow open and make this country even more divided in a way that most Americans just don't want."

UPDATE: Fournier expands on his case against the Obama administration's "nuclear option" on executive power:
Depending on how far Obama extends presidential authority—and he suggested Wednesday that he's willing to stretch it like soft taffy—this could be a political nuclear bomb. The man whose foundational promise was unity ("I don't want to pit red America against blue America") could seal his fate as the most polarizing president in history.
Ed Morrissey connects the current debate about executive power to the Watergate crisis:
The familiarity of these events, coupled with the increasing impulse of Obama to abandon constitutional limits, shows that America largely ignored the lessons of Watergate. It’s not enough to be wary of executive power when the opposition party controls the White House, as Republicans belatedly learned in 1974; to defend and protect constitutional government and the rule of law, that vigilance has to exist at all times.

Some of the same voices that shrieked with horror at the threat of the “unitary executive” under George W. Bush seem perfectly comfortable now with Obama ruling by executive fiat rather than governing under the rule of law, as long as it’s only their bêtes noires that get targeted.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Constitutional Abyss

Over at NRO, I examine some of the theoretical stakes of a presidential power grab on immigration:
Politicians and writers on both sides of the aisle have worried about what Ross Douthat has called a “leap into the antidemocratic dark.” Sweeping action on immigration could push the elastic limits on executive authority to such an extent that these limits would lose all their inhibiting force and become nothing more than limp window-dressing for presidential whim. If the president can rewrite immigration law without congressional approval, what limits would he face? As Yuval Levin has suggested, the president’s case for unilateral action on immigration could, with a few twists, become a case for unilateral action on tax cuts. A president could nullify environmental laws, undo child-labor laws, and rewrite federal law on a gamut of other domestic issues. Making the president the legislator of last resort could, over time, mean that Congress could at best hope to check the president’s dictates by passing laws with veto-proof majorities, which would not stop the legislative center of gravity from shifting from Congress to the executive branch. Such a shift might cheer those who believe that this nation should be governed by a quadrennial dictatorship, but it would run utterly counter to the enumerated principles of the Constitution.
Many members of both parties no doubt realize the deeper constitutional principles at risk from an over-extension of executive authority. With a lukewarm economy, turmoil abroad, and a smorgasbord of domestic controversies, the nation does not need an acute constitutional crisis. If the humanitarian situation on the southern border can in part be traced to the president’s earlier unilateral actions on immigration (and there is considerable evidence that it can be so traced), further sweeping executive action on immigration could lead to further misery — as President Obama himself worried in 2010. The president can claim no urgent crisis in order to justify, say, granting work permits to millions of illegal immigrants; if the need was so great, why did he not work to pass immigration reform (as he had promised that he would) in 2009, when Democrats held great majorities in Congress? Partisan expedience then does not excuse executive overreach now.
You can read the rest here.

The Washington Post has come out to urge President Obama to "think twice" about "tear[ing] up the Constitution" by overstepping the bounds of presidential authority on immigration.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Decentralization and Civil Society

April Ponnuru offers a conservative model of civil society:
Conservatives have a different vision for civil society. We are not interested in a one-size-fits-all ideology at odds with the temper of the times. In the past we have had considerable success with policies that responded to the country’s needs with decentralized and market-oriented solutions. And we can do it again. 
When Reagan ended the gas lines that had become a weekly problem in the late 1970s, he didn’t do it by creating a new board to address the problem. He lifted government control of gas prices and trusted the market to adapt. Welfare reform is another conservative success story. We took a program that was not working and changed it. We gave state governments freedom to manage their caseloads and insisted only on the consensus American value of work.

Domestic Caesarism?

Ross Douthat's column on the president's potential executive actions on immigration is worth a read.  Douthat warns about the deeper consequences of unilateral action by the president:
But in political terms, there is a sordid sort of genius to the Obama strategy. The threat of a unilateral amnesty contributes to internal G.O.P. chaos on immigration strategy, chaos which can then be invoked (as the president did in a Friday news conference) to justify unilateral action. The impeachment predictions, meanwhile, help box Republicans in: If they howl — justifiably! — at executive overreach, the White House gets to say “look at the crazies — we told you they were out for blood.”

It’s only genius, however, if the nonconservative media — honorable liberals and evenhanded moderates alike — continue to accept the claim that immigration reform by fiat would just be politics as usual, and to analyze the idea strictly in terms of its political effects (on Latino turnout, Democratic fund-raising, G.O.P. internal strife).

This is the tone of the media coverage right now: The president may get the occasional rebuke for impeachment-baiting, but what the White House wants to do on immigration is assumed to be reasonable, legitimate, within normal political bounds.

It is not: It would be lawless, reckless, a leap into the antidemocratic dark.
See also Douthat's response to some of the objections leveled against this column.