Citing overreach, Republicans ponder new checks on executive powers

Greg Nash

Congressional Republicans are considering various options to curb President Obama’s use of executive powers, which they say are excessive.

GOP officials have long claimed that the president has violated the law and the Constitution through administrative actions on issues ranging from immigration to nominations to the U.S. military involvement in Libya.

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But the president’s recent move to change ObamaCare through an administrative fix has sparked a new round of discussions within the conservative base and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week said he was “highly skeptical” Obama could find a fix for the cancellation of health insurance plans that was both “legal and effective.”

“I just don’t see, within the law, their ability to do that,” said the Speaker.

An hour later, Obama was outlining such a change to reporters at the White House.

House Republicans passed a bill that would allow people to keep their health plan. Despite a veto threat, 39 Democrats backed the legislation written by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

“I know there’s a lot of discussion about the validity of the president just unilaterally changing the law. ... There are a lot of us that are very concerned about it,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said in an interview with The Hill.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, said, “We’re exploring options to try to somehow try to rein in this president’s total disregard for the Constitution.”

Vulnerable West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall (D) explained that “the main reason” he supported the Upton bill was because he wasn’t sure Obama “had the legal underpinning to do what he did.”

Still, the House GOP strategy has not yet been ironed out, though legal action has been discussed.

Asked if Republicans are mulling filing a lawsuit to challenge Obama’s use of executive powers, Franks said that “there’s no question we should do that ... yes … and that’s something that we talked about a lot.”

Franks added that he “can’t get into details. Maybe I could if we had our act together, and were really clear what we’re going to do.”

Any legislative solution would surely die in the Democratic-led Senate, and House Republican leaders are wary of overplaying their hand — especially when the president is struggling in the polls amid the ObamaCare debacle.

Under Boehner, the House intervened in a case backing the Defense of Marriage Act after the Obama administration flip-flopped its position and refused to defend the law.

Boehner lost that case before the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, joined a lawsuit against Obama’s use of recess appointments. That case will be tackled by the Supreme Court next year.

When the administration opted to delay the employer mandate in Obama-Care, Republicans said the White House had no legal justification for changing the law.

The GOP-led House subsequently passed legislation giving Obama the authority, but the White House threatened a veto, saying the bill was unnecessary.

Chaffetz noted that “it’s not just [ObamaCare], it’s immigration. There are a lot of examples of this.”

The Utah GOP lawmaker was referring to the president’s decision to defer deportation of more than 500,000 individuals living in the U.S. illegally who were children when their parents moved them to the U.S. from another country.

In 2012, the president came under a heavy attack from critics who contended that he was implementing a failed bill — the Dream Act — to allow students or members of the military who were not in the U.S. legally to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

Immigration reform advocates hailed the president’s decision, which was part of his campaign reelection effort to bypass Congress when possible. The initiative was called, “We Can’t Wait.”

But Obama has repeatedly refused calls from senior Democrats on Capitol Hill to lift the debt ceiling by invoking the 14th Amendment.

This summer, Obama claimed he had the power for a limited strike in Syria. In the wake of bipartisan outcries, Obama asked Congress to grant him that approval, which it did not.

In 2009-2010, Obama urged lawmakers to pass climate change legislation. It passed the House but lacked the votes to clear the Senate. Now, the administration is moving forward with regulations on the contentious issue.

Executive power has been a hot political topic throughout U.S. history.

Early in Obama’s first term, Republicans lambasted his use of policymaking “czars.”

After 9/11, liberals decried then-President George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism policies as an abuse of executive power.

Some Republicans have since agreed that Bush usurped enormous power from the legislative branch throughout his two terms.

Patrick Mortiere contributed.