Published January 29, 2014
A year ago, President Obama was fresh from his re-election victory and filled his State of the Union message of bold plans on everything from immigration to gun control.
Since then his job approval rating has fallen from 52% down to just over 43% in the RealClearPolitics.com average of all polls.
ObamaCare, his signature legislative accomplishment, is fodder for every late-night comedian and even has Democrats worrying in public that it might be fiscally unsustainable.
It's now clear that a politically weakened President Obama's dreams of a legislative home-run are now merely a "field of dreams." But Obama is determined to make 2014 "a year of action," which is why, under the tutelage of new presidential aide John Podesta, he has decided to dramatically expand his assertions of executive power.
In Tuesday night's State of the Union he proclaimed: "Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
He then announced a dozen new executive orders, some unremarkable and some dubious, such as his unilateral decision demanding businesses doing work for the federal government pay a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, jacked up some 40% from the current rate of $7.25.
The Constitution didn't envision such sweeping unilateral exercises of power within a government of divided powers.
As Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz points out in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal: "The Obama administration has been so brazen in its attempts to expand federal power that the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected the Justice Department's efforts to expand federal power nine times since January 2012."
Just today, on Tuesday, there came a potential tenth -- a three-judge federal appeals court panel unanimously found the Obama administration violated the Freedom of Information Act in trying to keep secret government data food stamp program. One of the three judges, Jane Kelly, is an Obama appointee.
The area where President Obama has exercised unilateral power most egregiously is with ObamaCare, where he has overridden the statutory law at least 15 times to delay or change its written provisions.
In the past, both Democratic and Republican presidents have worked with Congress to make changes in major laws that have been passed. But not this president.
President Obama proclaimed much of the law was working, touting the example of a single mom from Arizona named Amanda Shelley.
Earlier this month she had emergency surgery after enrolling in ObamaCare. "Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would've meant bankruptcy," Obama boasted Tuesday night.
But there are many real-life examples of problems under ObamaCare the president didn't mention.
Out in the audience was Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahama, a man Obama has called his best Republican friend in Congress when they served together in the Senate. But Senator Coburn is retiring from Congress in order to better treat a recurrence of prostate cancer.
He told MSNBC Tuesday that his new ObamaCare policy will no longer cover treatment from his longtime cancer specialist.
Coburn, a successful physician, can afford to pay for the care he feels he needs out of his own pocket. But the vast majority of Americans couldn't do so -- without going bankrupt.
President Obama did lay out a couple of olive branches to Congress on Tuesday night. Rather than insist on a comprehensive solution to immigration, as he did during his 2013 State of the Union message, he was largely silent on the subject of immigration. But very few members of Congress I've spoken to believe the president will ultimately accept more piecemeal legislation that addresses specific immigration reforms.
Rhetorically, President Obama called for "a year of action." I fear that what is far more likely is that 2014 will be another year filled with the kind of frustration that has left almost two-thirds of Americans convinced the country is on the wrong track.
The most significant action we may see this year is a slew of executive orders ignoring or unilaterally changing the law.
His most significant legacy may be an erosion of the rule of law that future presidents will be tempted to expand on when their political agenda is thwarted.