In tonight’s State of the Union, President Obama intends to set off an era of unilateral presidential action by unilaterally increasing the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors:
President Obama plans to sign an executive order requiring that janitors, construction workers and others working for federal contractors be paid at least $10.10 an hour, using his own power to enact a more limited version of a policy that he has yet to push through Congress.
The order, which Mr. Obama will highlight in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night, is meant to underscore an increasing willingness by the president to bypass Congress if lawmakers continue to resist his agenda, aides said. After a year in which most of his legislative priorities went nowhere, Mr. Obama is seeking ways to make progress despite a lack of cooperation on Capitol Hill.
This idea was proposed back in December, and Jay Carney said something very interesting then:
Q: You spoke about some Republicans on the Hill, but congressional progressives — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Democrats, have written a letter to the President urging that he circumvent Congress and sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers employed through federal government contracts with private companies.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that, Peter. I would simply say that for those who watched or heard or read the President’s speech yesterday, you know how strongly he supports raising the minimum wage. This has always been done legislatively, and it has been done with support from Republicans and not just Democrats in the past.
And why has it always been done legislatively? Because, without some explanation of how Obama will offset the cost (what? there’s a cost? Yes, there’s a cost), it sounds like the President is spending our money without Congressional authorization.
Is this technically unconstitutional? I’m not sure. I have asked Eugene Volokh whether his blog will do a post on the matter today, and I hope they do. I am seeing word that the order will apply only to new contracts — and if that’s true, it may be constitutional. Here’s Charles W. Cooke on the matter:
That sounds right.
I think they ought to calculate what the cost would have been without the minimum wage, and appropriate that, and not a penny more. It’s then up to Obama to figure out how to handle the shortfall. Don’t like it? Welcome to the world of business owners, Mr. President! They have to make hard choices and so should you.
Like all my dreams about Congress standing up to this guy, this will never happen. The fact of the matter is that this President continues to appropriate Congressional authority in more blatant ways all the time. The New York Times piece linked above has helpfully catalogued some of the complaints from those damned carping Republicans:
Even so, Mr. Obama’s vow to use his executive authority more robustly has drawn criticism from Republicans who say he has already stretched and, in some cases, exceeded the bounds of his power, much as he once accused President George W. Bush of doing.
Among other things, Mr. Obama unilaterally deferred deportation of many younger illegal immigrants after Congress declined to pass legislation giving them legal status. He has delayed enforcement of several aspects of his hotly disputed health care law. He declined to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, a law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
As he looks ahead to three more years in office, and with Republicans likely to still hold one if not both houses of Congress, Mr. Obama has sought other ways of enacting his agenda. Perhaps the most far-reaching area will be the environment, where the Environmental Protection Agency is working on regulations to limit carbon emissions at the nation’s power plants.
Imagine if Republicans won the Senate this year, and lawmakers declared they no longer needed a presidential signature to pass certain laws. There would be a cry of outrage. And these actions would be ignored, because Congress has no enforcement agency. But Obama’s declaring he does not need congressional authorization to change our laws? That barely registers in the national consciousness. And yet this is more dangerous, because Obama has the police power. He has the guns. If anyone needs to be checked, he does.
On his radio show, Mark Levin has accurately described what is taking place here as a slow-motion coup. Regardless of the constitutionality of today’s action, it is clear that Obama is taking on powers that a President simply does not possess under the Constitution. The problem is, lawsuits are not the way to stop this. The way to stop it is Congressional action. And Congress won’t do it.
Once again, I am noting something that will be largely ignored. And our country slides a little further towards oblivion.