Sitting presidents whose agendas are soundly rejected by voters in midterm congressional elections have two options: They can either accommodate the new political reality, as President Bill Clinton did after 1994, or they can use bureaucratic edicts to advance their unpopular programs, as President Barack Obama is clearly doing now.
Given the historic drubbing his party just suffered at the polls, Obama’s defiant strategy might prevent a second term for the man who began his first buoyed by an outpouring of good will.
Predictably, Obama’s regulatory imperialism focuses on labor and environmental issues, as environmental activists and labor unions, especially those representing government workers, are the core of support for the Democratic president and his congressional allies.
At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Administrator Lisa Jackson is moving forward with a massive new program to subject the entire U.S. economy to an anti-global warming regulatory straitjacket aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Last year, Obama warned Congress that the EPA would do this if the Legislature failed to enact an Obama-supported version of cap-and-trade.
Cap-and-trade passed the House in 2009, but never made it out of the Senate due to intense public opposition, especially in energy-rich states such as West Virginia. Now Jackson is following through on Obama’s threat.
At the Department of Labor, last year Secretary Hilda Solis wasted no time after taking office in gutting long-standing rules requiring unions to disclose important details about how they spend members’ dues. Now Patricia Smith, Obama’s Labor Department solicitor general, is working with Solis to implement an unprecedented new enforcement directive designed to put businesses at the mercy of union bosses. The directive provides, according to The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund, for aggressive use of OSHA to compel business cooperation through “shaming” and to “engage in enterprise-wide enforcement.”
The rest of the bureaucratic blitzkrieg will be carried out by Smith’s eager staff of 400 labor lawyers. Nathan Mehrens, the Americans for Limited Government general counsel, said the agenda includes:
- A focus on “cases against employers in priority industries.”
- Plans to “litigate cases that cut across regions.”
- Working to “identify and pursue test cases” to “challenge legal principles that impede worker protections; successful challenges will advance workers’ rights, as will successful enunciation of new interpretations.”
- Engaging “in greater use of injunctive relief.”
Meanwhile, as Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in Friday’s Examiner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing the lame-duck Congress to pass his Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, a measure that will force public employee unions on all local and state police, fire and EMTs. Obama supports Reid’s bill, but its passage is far from assured. Nobody will be surprised if, shortly after the Reid proposal fails on Capitol Hill, Obama unveils a new regulatory gambit to achieve the same end.