Biden’s executive orders aren’t the problem. A broken Congress is | Friday Morning Coffee

January 29, 2021 7:09 am

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: Joe Biden is sworn in as U.S. President during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

It was tough not to chuckle at a New York Times editorial this week chastising President Joe Biden for the barrage of executive orders that have gone flying out of the Oval Office during his first week behind the Resolute Desk, as if he were the first president ever to do so.

“This is no way to make law. A polarized, narrowly divided Congress may offer Mr. Biden little choice but to employ executive actions or see his entire agenda held hostage,” the Times’ editorial board soberly inveighed. “These directives, however, are a flawed substitute for legislation.”

They’re not wrong — but more on that in a minute.

Biden has, indeed, been busy. He’s committed to the United States rejoining the Paris Climate agreementundone a ban on transgender Americans serving in the armed forces; killed the Keystone XL pipeline; halted construction on the border wallended a hateful Muslim travel banand he took action Thursday on a variety of healthcare-related measures.

Predictably, Republicans have grumbled about what they see as wild executive overreach by the 46th president of the United States. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, complained on Twitter: “30 executive orders and actions signed in only 3 days’ time. @POTUS, you can’t govern with a pen and a phone,” according to Newsweek.

Liberals, meanwhile, have rejoiced. So, in other words, balance has been restored to the Force.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: President Joe Biden speaks during the the 59th inaugural ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)

The Times’ bellyaching, meanwhile, isn’t off the mark. The editorial board’s bottom line assessment that legislative authorization is always preferred to executive action is entirely correct. So too is its conclusion about the instability and unpredictability that’s created by governing fiats that disappear in the wind with every change of administration.

But this isn’t a problem that’s particularly unique to Biden. Former President Donald Trump signed a flurry of executive orders, as he sought to undo the legacy of ex-President Barack Obama.

Rather, it’s an issue that goes back decades, as presidents have wielded their powers more broadly, and as Congress has seemingly abdicated much of its law- and war-making authority to the executive.

A review of the last 50 years of executive orders highlights that trend, based on data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

President Richard Nixon signed 346 orders; Gerald Ford signed 169 during his brief interregnum; Jimmy Carter signed 320 in his one-term; famed small government conservative Ronald Reagan signed 381 orders over his eight years; George H.W. Bush signed a more modest 166; Bill Clinton signed 364 in his two terms; George W. Bush signed 291, while Obama, whom Republicans like to deride as imperial, signed 276 over his eight years in office. In the four years that seemed like an eternity, Trump signed 220 orders, the analysis found.

It’s too soon to tell, of course, whether Biden will shatter any records. But if we take Blackburn’s number at face value, and assume that Biden will continue to sign 30 orders a week for four years, that would result in an eye-watering 6,240 executive orders in a single, four-year term.

But again, the fact that Biden and his predecessors have felt increasingly emboldened to do end-runs on the legislative branch emphasizes a deeper dysfunction in our politics. As it becomes more riven by partisanship, Congress’ ability to get the work of the people done decreases proportionately.

US Constitution
Volunteers unfurl a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution during a demonstration against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall Oct. 20, 2010, in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Of the scores of bills that were introduced in 2020, Congress enacted just 28 of them, Axios reported, citing a new report by Quorum, a D.C-based public affairs software firm. While the 116th Congress was brought to a standstill by the pandemic, it still will be the least productive since the 1970s, Axios reported.

And despite reforms enacted in the post-Watergate years to counteract what the historian Arthur Schlesinger described as the “imperial presidency,” there’s been a gradual creep back in the other direction in the decades since.

“Since the 1970s, Democrats and Republicans have sorted themselves by party, with less room for internal dissent and less of a will to criticize or challenge a president from one’s own party. Both parties have been willing to grant the president more authority when it served their purpose,” historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer wrote in a 2019 New York Times op-Ed.

The current problem is further complicated by the rise of social media, Axios noted, as tweeting has replaced actual lawmaking.

The end result, according to Axios, is a “Washington that’s high on noise and low on results.” Lawmakers posted to FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube 785,000 times in 2020, compared to 593,000 times in 2018, and a relatively modest 290,000 times in 2016, the digital news site reported.

Lawmakers, such as Blackburn, who profess to be horrified by Biden’s executive excesses, need to take a look in the mirror.

Congress may come first in the U.S. Constitution, but it’s been happy to play second fiddle to the White House for too long. And only they can fix that.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Yet another state board has kicked off a ‘nuts and bolts’ review of Pennsylvania’s election laws, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

On Thursday, Gov.Tom Wolf previewed the budget plan that he’ll deliver — virtually — to the state House and Senate next week. Stephen Caruso has the details on an agenda that sounds hauntingly familiar.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Paled the criticism of President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban DevelopmentU.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, during a Senate hearing on Thursday, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes.

Federal officials are trying to ease the vaccine backlog by enlisting retired nurses and doctors, Olson also reports.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper delivered her final State of the County address on Thursday, where she applauded local healthcare workers for their efforts during the pandemic, Correspondent Hannah McDonald reports.

Will Baker, the longtime head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundationwill step down at year’s endJosh Kurtz, of our sibling site, Maryland Matters, reports.

Officials in the Philadelphia Public Schools have announced a plan for some students to return to the classroom in February, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, ex-Office of Open Records boss Erik Arneson, who’s now a top aide to state Treasurer Stacy Garritysalutes ex-Treasurer Joe Torsella as he rides into the sunset.  Soon-to-be former state Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm also takes a valedictory lap, hinting at the adventure to come.

En la Estrella-Capital: Elecciones especiales para llenar la Cámara vacante, escaños en el Senado que tendrán lugar el 18 de Mayo, por Elizabeth HardisonY sin pompa y cero circunstanciaWolf entregará la dirección del presupuesto virtualmente, por Stephen Caruso.

New Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw
 says she won’t resign in the wake of a harshly critical report of her department’s handling of the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism protests last year, the Inquirer reports.
A western Pa. restaurant owner has told a judge that she will never require her customers to wear masks during a hearing over her establishment being shut down for violating COVID-19 protocols, the Tribune-Review reports.
PennLive explains how U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., could each end up with more clout in a narrowly divided Senate.
Elections officials from Lehigh County and elsewhere told state lawmakers about problems with  Pennsylvania’s aging electronic voter system, the Morning Call reports.
Local taxes rose in 14 Luzerne County municipalities this year, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Pennsylvania farmers are cautiously optimistic for 2021, the York Daily Record reports (paywall).
A local police officer who also is a retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper is running for sheriff in Washington County, the Observer-Reporter reports.

Here’s your #Scranton Instagram of the Day:


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Officials at Drexel University are trying to distance themselves from a controversial student-run vaccinating group, but nursing students from the school participated, WHYY-FM reports.
WITF-FM explains how it intends to hold lawmakers accountable for their claims about election fraud.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has reopened for gun permits, GoErie reports.
Reminding us that it’s never too early to plan ahead, University of Virginia political sage Larry Sabato says Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race is a toss-up for 2022 (via PoliticsPA). 
explains how lawmakers nationwide are dealing with a ‘tidal wave’ of evictions and utility shut-offs.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. has kissed the ring and is tapping the Trump base for donations as Republicans look to retake the House in two years, Roll Call reports.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Christina Kristofic, editor-in-chief of The Keystone, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
This one just dropped this morning: Here’s the new Clean Bandit single, It’s ‘Higher (featuring iann dior).

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina’s Petr Mrazek 
and Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy held a goaltending master-class on Thursday night, holding each other to a goalless draw until the ‘Canes’ Martin Necas finally put one away in OT to hand his team the 1-0 win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.