The Six Executive Orders Obama May Issue To Circumvent The Do-Nothing Congress

The 112th Congress was one of the least productive and most obstructionist in history — as Ezra Klein notes, it passed 100 fewer laws than the previously-least productive Congress on record and “achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything.” The unprecedented use of the filibuster (roughly 400 times, a number unheard of in American history previously) ensured that any action in the Senate would be go nowhere, to say nothing of the GOP-controlled house.

As a consequence, President Obama has been forced to make do with valuable, but ultimately incomplete, executive actions on huge issues like climate change. It looks like the second term will be similar: the Washington Post reported on Sunday that President Obama was planning to use executive power to make what changes he could on a series of domestic policy fronts. Below are six executive actions Obama may be considering:

1. Cybersecurity: President Obama appears likely to “establish a voluntary program where companies operating critical infrastructure would elect to meet cybersecurity best practices and standards crafted, in part, by the government.” These voluntary minimum security standards are supposed to ward against an escalating pattern of cyber intrusions on “critical infrastructure.” It’s hard to say exactly what the standards in this order would be with any precision.

2. Housing: Housing is perhaps both the most significant and most ignored problem facing the United States today — 11 million Americans currently are “underwater,” meaning they owe more in mortgage than their house is worth. The executive order under consideration would extend super-low refinancing rates to people who have private mortgages, a helpful move that’s nonetheless insufficient without Congressional action.


3. Climate Change: The Post reports that the President is thinking of expanding two first term climate change executive actions; emission standards for power plants imposed under the Clean Air Act and the Better Buildings Initiative. The former standards currently only applies to new power plants; after these are finalized, the President is “considering moving beyond that effort toward regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants.” The latter is an initiative to improve buildings’ energy efficiency. These two moves, however, only scratch the surface of potential executive actions on climate change.

4. Equality for federal LGBT workers: Congress has been recalcitrant about passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which extends full non-discrimination protection to all Americans on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity. Until recently, President Obama had used the legislative effort as a shield against issuing an executive order that would extend said protections to federal contractors. It now seems likely that an order protecting contractors is forthcoming.

5. Fair payment for home care workers: Roughly two million Americans work in the in-home medical care sector but, due to a legal exemption, can be paid under the minimum wage and generally don’t receive standard overtime wages. These workers are almost all women, and large percentages are poor and/or racial minorities. While the White House initially announced plans to end the minimum wage and overtime exemptions in 2011, it has yet to finalize them — but may well soon.

A Quinnipiac poll released on Monday found that President Obama was more trusted than Congressional Republicans by the general public on every issue surveyed, ranging from the economy to immigration to foreign policy. Another Quinnipiac poll earlier in February found that only 19 percent of Americans approve of Congressional Republicans’ performance.