The Runback: Executive Orders
The real story is not in how many President Biden has issued. But why.
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The Monday Thought
There has been a lot of ink and a lot of talk about the fact that so far in office, 42 Executive Orders have been issued by President Joe Biden.
The number isn’t exactly that high. There have been 25 Executive Orders issued; 17 other directives, memos, and other executive actions have been undertaken by the Administration as well. But the number of Biden’s executive actions, no matter what you call them, far exceed the number of issued in the first ten days of the Administration’s of his four predecessors.
Regardless of whether you like the actions or not, most of the Biden Administration's actions were reactionary orders issued rescinding previous orders from the Trump Administration. These include:
Rescinding the Mexico City Policy;
Reestablished the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology;
Rejoined the Paris Accords;
Canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline;
Rescinded the 1776 Commission;
Reversed ban on transgender Americans joining the military;
Rescinded an order removing bargaining power and worker protections for federal workers;
Rescinded US withdrawal from the World Health Organization;
Rescinded the order excluding non-citizens from being counted in the apportionment process;
Rescinded restrictions on US entry by residents of certain Muslim-majority countries.
Many of the policies are hard to swallow, regardless of your feelings about the previous administration. It also lays waste to the idea that the Trump Administration accomplished long-term policy changes during their four years in office.
And that, ultimately, is the biggest story about Biden’s executive actions. It’s not about the actions that Biden has taken. It’s not even about the actions that the Trump Administration took.
The story is the fact that Congress has completely abdicated governing to the Executive Branch.
No major policy changes really come out of Congress any more. You could argue that the last time that a major policy change passed Congress was the passage of the Affordable Care Act way back in 2010. Since then, most major policy changes have their genesis in executive actions and not congressional actions.
Sure, Congress still passes some things. They usually pass omnibus spending bills, mostly. Most of those negotiations are handled by a small cadre of legislative leaders negotiating on behalf of their members, who usually go along to get along according to their respective party caucus. These days it seems as if the main job of members of Congress involves:
Running for re-election;
Holding hearings of questionable usage;
Getting their name in the news;
Run for President (for some, at least).
Think about it; what policy accomplishments does Ted Cruz have? Or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Or Andy Harris (when he bothers to show up to work). Or this dweeb?
The answer sadly is; not much. And we pay over $94 million a year in salaries and benefits for this privilege.
Think about Republicans and the abortion issue. House Republicans put out a video on January 29th, the day of the (virtual) March for Life about standing together for life.
That’s all well and good but Republicans had control of both houses of Congress for how many years and did not pass a single meaningful piece of abortion-related legislation? They couldn’t even get the low-hanging fruit done properly; Republicans could have codified the Mexico City Policy into law in either 2017 or 2018. Trump (ostensibly) would have signed it. Couldn’t be bothered to do it. That one singular legislative action could have prevented Biden from rescinding the Policy during his first ten days.
Democrats try to get their faces on MSNBC. Republicans try to get themselves on Fox News. Trump supporters try to get on whatever bottom-feeder news organizations will still have them. Play to the bases that they can’t get anything done thanks to gridlock. to get the base motivated. Nobody really accomplishes anything. Rinse and repeat.
Some members have even gotten brazen about it. Enter freshman Republican Madison Cawthorn, who said the quiet part out loud;
Cawthorn’s outsized focus on messaging isn’t incidental to his rise to power; it is central to his success. As a new legislator, he is not working on churning out new bills. He is, instead, presenting himself as a useful messaging megaphone for the legislators that do. “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” he wrote to Republican colleagues in a Jan. 19 email obtained by TIME.
Just to emphasize the point that he is all about drawing attention to himself, there’s this gem:
He’s not even pretending to try and do anything other than be in the business of Madison Cawthorn. And unfortunately, he and many others think that being an attention-seeker is the reason you run for Congress.
And that’s the big story of Biden’s executive orders. As in the example with the above Mexico City Policy, too many members of Congress are comfortable just kicking the cans down the road on accomplishing things in order to keep their political noses clean, take no risks, and keep the paychecks and bennies rolling in so they can get their pension vested. Until members of Congress decide once again that governing is an important function of their job, the flood of executive actions rearranging policy from this and future administrations will continue.