Being Realistic About Obama’s Legacy

One thing about Obama’s presidency that needs to be looked at with a clear eye is that he really didn’t utilize the powers of his office to the fullest. One example of this was his last-minute signing of many executive orders, which makes them much easier to overturn (boldface mine):

Just days after the November election, top aides to Donald J. Trump huddled with congressional staff members in Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s suite of offices at the Capitol. The objective: not to get things done, but to undo them — quickly.

For about three months after Inauguration Day, Mr. Trump would have the power to wipe away some of his predecessor’s most significant regulations with simple-majority votes from his allies in Congress.

But the clock was ticking.

An obscure law known as the Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to overturn major new regulations issued by federal agencies. After that window closes, sometime in early May, the process gets much more difficult: Executive orders by the president can take years to unwind regulations — well beyond the important 100-day yardstick for new administrations.

So in weekly meetings leading up to Jan. 20, the Trump aides and lawmakers worked from a shared Excel spreadsheet to develop a list of possible targets: rules enacted late in Barack Obama’s presidency that they viewed as a vast regulatory overreach that was stifling economic growth.

The result was a historic reversal of government rules in record time. Mr. Trump has used the review act as a regulatory wrecking ball, signing 13 bills that erased rules on the environment, labor, financial protections, internet privacy, abortion, education and gun rights. In the law’s 21-year history, it had been used successfully only once before, when President George W. Bush reversed a Clinton-era ergonomics rule.

The effort has surpassed its architects’ most ambitious hopes. Andrew Bremberg, the president’s domestic policy chief, said he had thought Congress might be able to use the act to pass five or six bills reversing Mr. Obama’s regulations. During the transition effort, no one contemplated more than a dozen, Mr. Bremberg said.

Here are some of the lowlights:

An early Obama rule that Mr. Trump and Congress reversed would have required coal companies to make sure that waste from mountaintop mining was not polluting local waterways. Now, steps to prevent illness from contaminated drinking water will not be taken.

Another rule would have required the Social Security Administration to provide information about mentally incapacitated people to law enforcement agencies that conduct background checks for gun purchases. Now, these individuals — an estimated 75,000 a year — will not need Justice Department waivers to buy guns.

One eliminated regulation would have prohibited internet providers from collecting, sharing or selling consumers’ information without their permission. One would have required some businesses to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses for five years instead of six months. And another would have prevented states from denying funding for women’s health services to facilities that also provided abortions.

When the next presidential cycle rolls around, the Democratic candidates need to be grilled hard to see if they know how to use the office. It really does matter.

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1 Response to Being Realistic About Obama’s Legacy

  1. Tracy Lightcap says:


    These aren’t executive orders they’re talking about; they are new regulations. Those have to go through the Administrative Procedure Act, a process that can take years. The rules the article was talking about had been proposed before 2016. The Stream Protection Rule, for instance, was proposed in 2015 and went through a bruising vetting process; damn near everybody except environmentalists opposed it. It finally became effective in January 2017.

    In short, it wasn’t so much that Obama didn’t know that the rule was vulnerable as that simply getting the thing into the APA processes was like getting your molars pulled. No doubt they would have liked to get it down sooner, but the president isn’t Green Lantern and can’t simply ignore the APA (something Trump will learn to his chagrin soon). Trump’s right; being president is hard.

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