Wicker: Constitutional Checks and Balances Rein in Obama’s Power Grabs

Administration’s Overreach Challenged in Courts, Committee Hearings, and Budget

September 14, 2015

Checking the power of the executive branch is one of lawmakers’ constitutional responsibilities. Americans entrusted this obligation to Republicans when electing them to the Senate majority last year. In addition to getting Congress working again, Republicans have launched a number of important efforts to rein in the Obama Administration’s overreach.

Lawmakers Look to the Judicial Process

Some of these challenges have proceeded through the courts, which are responsible for interpreting the law. For example, a United States District Court placed a legal hold on the President’s attempt to bypass Congress and grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. When the Obama Administration petitioned the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to remove the hold, 25 Republican Senators joined an amicus brief arguing against the President’s illegal efforts to rewrite immigration law. The Fifth Circuit responded by affirming the hold, refusing to allow the President’s unlawful immigration plan to proceed.

Republican Senators were similarly successful in challenging the Obama Administration’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Last year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that President Obama had acted unconstitutionally in naming members to the board without congressional approval.

Hearings, Appropriations Reject Unilateral Action

Oversight of the executive branch also comes through Congress’s committee hearings and the annual appropriations process. As a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I took part in a hearing earlier this year to question officials from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about its burdensome net neutrality rules. Under pressure from the Obama Administration, the independent agency approved widespread regulation of the Internet that could severely hamper innovation and investment. The hearing allowed lawmakers not only to express their concerns but also to demand answers.

Likewise, after the President issued a shortsighted executive order expanding federal control over flood risk standards, the Senate defunded the plan in a 2016 appropriations bill. The rule could have saddled communities with additional costs and delayed critical infrastructure improvements. Instead, Congress used its “power of the purse” to object.

Bills Counter EPA’s Expanding Influence

President Obama has shown little regard for the legislative process in pursuing his extreme environmental agenda. Republicans have responded with several bills to limit onerous regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I am a supporter of the “Federal Water Quality Protection Act” to revise the Administration’s broad “waters of the United States” rule in a way that protects property owners and municipalities from intrusive federal control. I have also cosponsored the “Affordable Reliable Electricity Now Act” to prevent costly EPA rules on coal-fired power plants and two bills opposing the Administration’s ground-level ozone standard, which is poised to be the most expensive regulation to date.

As the President tries to expand government bureaucracy, Congress has worked to reduce it through the budget process. Since 2010, some $1.2 billion has been cut from the budget of the Internal Revenue Service, and its payroll has been reduced by more than 18,000. EPA has seen significant reductions as well. The agency’s budget has been cut by more than 20 percent over the past five years, with staffing at its lowest level since 1989.

There is more work to do. We can help spur the economy by removing unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to growth and entrepreneurship. Empowering Americans – not Washington – is the key to future success.