It's no secret that the United States Congress is next to useless, and has been for quite some time. This year, the 113th Congress has signed a whopping 15 bills into law, and seems poised yet again to earn the title of "least productive Congress since the 1940s," a record it keeps stealing from itself. What's keeping Congress from getting anything done? Boiled down, it seems Republicans' insurmountable fear of letting any successful legislation pass while President Barack Obama is in office is preventing them from functioning even at the most basic level. In a beautiful fit of irony, however, it is this very Obama-loathing gridlock that is allowing the president to take governing into his own hands.
When the U.S. Senate comes to the point that it has to bribe its members into working with 50 years of secrecy, it's undeniable that Congress has stalemated its way into irrelevance. Republicans — Tea Partiers and GOP establishment alike — are so loathe to let Obama look even remotely successful in office that they're willing to essentially play dead than pass any sort of effective legislation. And the result? They're forcing the president to find alternative routes for running the federal government, which often means operating through executive orders. The Republican fear of letting Obama do anything is actually forcing Obama to do more. So why haven't they caught on?
Just look at the most recent examples. On education policy, the Obama administration knows it is beyond futile to attempt to pass anything through Congress, so it's looking at measures it can take that circumvent the legislative branch. There's the president's plan for a high-speed internet access expansion in schools that would bring poor districts into the digital age, and as the Washington Post so lovingly puts it: "Better yet, the president would not need Congress to approve it." Sticking with education, there is Obama's plan that he laid out in his State of the Union address in January to create a universal Pre-K program. How will Obama implement this $75 billion program? According to Politico, "Skip Congress and spend the money anyway." And then there's Senator Marco Rubio, fearful that Congress' predictable inaction on immigration reform will bring yet another executive order from the president. "I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, he will be tempted to issue an executive order," Rubio told a Florida radio host.
It doesn't matter if Congress doesn't want the president to get anything done — his administration has accepted that and is simply finding any way it can to operate. Whereas Congress is content to sit on its hands, the executive branch is busy looking at alternatives. Sure, as Robert Reich argues in the New York Times, this means a less democratically-functioning government. Because even though some might believe the president can appeal to public opinion to spur Congress into action, public support for legislation is likely to fall on deaf ears.
Instead, the executive branch must take matters into its own hands and run the government itself. It seems that Congress' biggest fear — a President Obama wielding power unilaterally — is indeed coming true, and they have only themselves to blame.