Stopping Obama: A Republican Game Plan

Barack Obama may have had a licking, but he keeps on ticking.  How will the new Congress deal with a president who is relentless in his agenda to create a transformed America?

Barack Obama faces new challenges when the new Congress takes power on January 5.  The House has turned red with a solid majority of 242 Republicans to 193 Democrats; the Senate is less blue, and most of the senators facing elections in 2012 are Democrats who hail from states that voted for Republicans in 2010.  But people who fall for Obama's feints to the center (such as the faux pay freeze for federal employees or the tax deal he was forced into by Republican victories in November) have no one to blame but themselves.

Who says so?  Barack Obama, through his rhetoric and actions over the last two years.  Lest we forget, when he was forced to swallow the tax bill, he showed his true nature, lashing out at Republicans and saying that he was "itching for a fight on a wide range of issues."

Obama is on a mission to advance a far-left agenda, and he will use all means at his disposal to accomplish his goals.  "The end justifies the means" is his modus operandi.  The means may not be as apparent as they were when he was riding high with a sledgehammer in his hand; instead, he will rely on stealth.  (Stanley Kurtz researched Obama's career as a state senator and nicknamed him "Senator Stealth" in recognition of the subtlety Obama resorted to when he was a lowly state senator.)

So how will Obama react when the new Congress is sworn in come January?

He has already received his marching orders from the Center for American Progress (CAP) -- called his "Ideas Factory" by TIME and his "Policy Font" by Bloomberg News.  After the shellacking, the CAP released a report calling for Obama to rely on increased use of executive powers to push his agenda (and ignore the wishes of the American people and the role of the newly constituted Congress): "Executive orders, Rulemaking, Agency management, Convening and creating public-private partnerships, Commanding the armed forces, Diplomacy."

Michael Waldman, who worked for President Bill Clinton, cheers this muscular approach and writes that Obama has ample means to advance a progressive agenda:

... like all presidents, he has a bulging toolkit: executive orders, regulations, spending decisions, the bully pulpit and more.  Obama has lots of power, and he should wield it ...

Consider energy policy, where congressional gridlock seems inevitable, with many conservatives insisting climate change is a myth and taxes are a nightmare.  The Center's experts say Obama could impose a $2-per-barrel fee on imported oil with proceeds steered toward energy research.  Or he could direct that half the federal auto fleet use alternative fuels by 2015, thus creating a new huge market for clean vehicles.  And he could use the new financial consumer protection agency to introduce strong protections for consumers.
Waldman notes that Obama aides seeking a road map can find one written ten years ago by a professor who once worked for Bill Clinton when he faced a Congress that would oppose Clinton's plans.  She counseled a turn towards using the bureaucracy to achieve "the full panoply of his domestic policy goals ... whether the subject was health care, welfare reform, tobacco, or guns."  That professor is now our newest Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan.  Was she chosen for her expansive view of presidential powers since legal questions regarding presidential authority may arise in the future?

We have seen already that Barack Obama is inclined to use all the powers and tricks he can to force his ideology on us: executive orders that favor his allies and donors, big Labor among them; presidential signing statements that signal the provisions of legislation he feels he is entitled to ignore (a tactic that has riled even his own Democrats); appointments of czars and czarinas; and repeated reliance on recess appointments to circumvent the Senate confirmation process, helping him to choose key officials who are ideologically compatible with him, albeit not with the American people (see the Justice and  Labor Departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and a raft of other agencies).  The the list goes on and on.

John Fund believes that Obama 2.0 will rely on executive orders and rule-making to circumvent Congress.  Fund sees signs of this approach in a new Labor Department plan to make life even more miserable for business through a variety of means not resorted to by previous administrations, Republican or Democrat.  Conversely, monitoring of unions will be weakened by transferring the responsibility for whistle-blowing investigations from OSHA to a department charged with scrutinizing unions.  Given the added workload from OSHA, union-monitoring (how union leaders spend workers' dues, for example) will inevitably be weakened.

Charles Krauthammer foresees that Obama will also exercise his control over the fourth branch of government -- the bureaucracy, the regulations, and the rules it lives to proliferate -- to power his agenda for the next two years.  Obama the poker player has already tipped his hand.  He is using bureaucratic edict to advance card check, bypassing a Congress that resisted union demands to bring about card check via legislation.

That strategy is tailor-made for Obama.  Rules accumulate stealthily under the radar screen.  They are incomprehensible, and most people's eyes glaze over them anyway.  Even many of the politicians responsible for passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) admitted that they did not bother to read the bill.  Business groups might fish them out, but these will be portrayed as greedy people who want to exploit workers, despoil the environment, and plunder the nation to line their wallets.

The rules and regulations are going to come fast and furious

We are laboring under a massively expanding regulatory regime that has extended its tentacles into numberless nooks and crannies across our nation (and the playing field has widened with the takeover of two car companies, ObamaCare, and the new rules-laden  Federal Regulations Bill).  Big Brother has become Big Bully.

Obama focuses his regulatory imperialism on labor and environmental issues, defying the will of the people.  Last year, he warned Congress that if it did not pass cap and trade, his EPA would bring it about via rules and regulations -- Congress be damned..

That was just a warm-up.

We have seen nothing yet.

So what is to be done?

Is there a strategy that can defeat the one drafted by Obama cronies at the Center for American Progress?

Push-back by Congress against Bureaucrats Gone Wild

Republicans now control the House.  Speaker John Boehner can help control the flow of legislation through the House.  But the Republican ascendancy bears more fruit than just the Speakership.  All the various committees will now be headed by Republicans, and therein lies a powerful tool to stop Obama.

At Long Last, Oversight

There will now be broad oversight over the operations of the executive branch -- something that has been absent for the last two years.  I have written numerous columns on the potential benefits that will come when Congressman Darrell Issa takes over the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  He has already tipped his hand that his inquiries regarding the operation of the government over the last two years will be broad and deep.  Have all those billions flowing to green energy schemes been ways to reward political allies of the president and his party?  Has stimulus money devoted to energy programs been wasted in shoddy work and fraudulent schemes, as they were in Obama's hometown of Chicago?  Will Rep. Issa explore the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster?

The list is endless, as Al Kamen noted in a Washington Post column:

The possibilities are numerous. First, of course, might be Attorney General Eric Holder, for wanting to try alleged Sept. 11 terrorists in Manhattan, or for dropping charges against the New Black Panther Party of intimidating white poll-watchers and hypothetical white voters in an all-black Philadelphia precinct.

That could play to the tea party base, but maybe better to go deep on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, for being mean to polluters and enacting cap-and-trade regulations before Congress actually passes a bill. That would please mining, oil and other heavy polluters.

Then there's former president Bill Clinton -- no executive privilege anymore -- and the White House, for a job offer to Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to get him out of the Pennsylvania primary. That might be immensely satisfying to Issa personally, since he's really steamed about it. (On the other hand, Clinton's polls are up these days, and pursuing this could seem too political and unstatesmanlike.)

Treasury Secretary Tim "Bailout" Geithner is another fine target, if you're looking to rev up anger over the management -- not the actual Bush-signed legislation -- of the TARP billions. Or the Energy or Transportation Departments, for their management of the stimulus money. Good ties to jobs and deficit-cutting in those areas.

For excellent waste, fraud and abuse, Issa might want to subpoena Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and CIA chief Leon Panetta about those pallets of cash shipped to Afghanistan to show Washington's deep respect for certain warlords -- and the presidential palace, where about half the money went.

Issa, a successful businessman before embarking on a career in politics, intends to efficiently deal with the myriad duties by creating new oversight sub-panels to investigate the TARP and stimulus programs.  He is beefing up the panel to prepare for battle with the Obama administration.

Darrell Issa may hold hearings regarding Barack Obama's hostility toward inspectors general -- the unsung heroes of the federal government who watch our tax dollars.  Issa seeks to give more power to these watchdogs, including granting them subpoena power to call witnesses as a way to overcome stonewalling -- a proposal that the Wall Street Journal considers overreach, but an idea that at least one former inspector general thinks has merit as a way to uncover fraud, waste, and abuse in government.

The fear that Darrell Issa evokes among the Democrats is palpable: they are angling to place their best and brightest as minority members of his committee to go toe-to-toe with him.  According to The Hill, Democrat Elijah Cummings was chosen as the "ranking member of the Committee in an attempt to counter the aggressive incoming chairman Darrell Issa[,] who has vowed to hold hundreds of hearings and launch new investigations into the bank bailouts, the stimulus funds and possibly the healthcare [sic] overhaul."  These hearings will go on for two years -- right up 'til the next election.

Bureaucrats should be called to explain the purpose of Obama's executive orders.  Issa seems to have become the go-to guy for the media as journalists await Issa Inquisitions.  Perhaps Issa will have some luck in widely publicizing how Obama has been using these orders to frustrate the will of the people.  As Justice Brandeis wrote, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The administration will try to shield itself by stonewalling and claiming executive privileges as well as invoking the specter of state secrets.

Issa and his chief of staff (who has been called the Democrats' worst nightmare) just might be the people who can tear down the wall by constant hammering.

Let the battle begin.

There will be other chairmen champing at the bit to find out what has been going on for the past two years (because we know the media won't -- with rare and reviled exceptions), and it will be up to them (and us) to expose the shenanigans, favoritism, and political payoffs that have flowed from the Oval Office.  Perhaps, finally, the promise of transparency made and instantly forgotten by Barack Obama (most of his promises have an expiration date) will be fulfilled and enforced.

There are a lot of new sheriffs in town, and they all bear the title "chairman."

Trying to Slow the Obama Bulldozer

These committee chairmen can also help stop the Obama agenda.  By calling hearings and issuing subpoenas for officials to testify, a chairman can tie up the working day for this czar or that czarina.  One witness who might be hauled before House committees is Elizabeth Warren, who circumvented the Senate confirmation process when she was named as the "special adviser" to a brand new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Her appointment elicited howls of protest from Republicans, given her left-wing views and the powers of this new agency.  Now their howls will be heard.

By calling these officials to committee hearings, they will have less time and energy to make mischief.  The left will howl about the oversight process being abused, but given the fact that Americans have objected to the rise of the czars, they may give some leeway to Republicans.  Besides, the left has often indulged in exactly this sort of activity.

The Power of the Pen

More importantly, committees control the drafting and flow of legislation.  Legislation has to work its way through committees before it can be voted on by the full House.  Imagine pipes and handles on the faucets -- those handles will now be in Republican hands.  Particularly important will be Republican control of the House Rules Committee, the traffic cop for legislation being considered.  Those who make the rules can have home field advantage.

Legislation can be drafted and passed that tightens and clarifies legislative intent so that regulatory agencies are restrained from interpreting it in unintended ways.  The EPA is on a mission that would harm many industries in America by using the Clean Air Act to give it a mandate to go to war against utilities, factories, and the coal mining industry.  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been trying to draft legislation that would clarify the act and stop the EPA.  Republicans will seize the issue in the new Congress.

Legislation that used to slide through Congress (greased by pork and bribes, such as the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase) will be bogged down by Republicans.  Nancy Pelosi was correct: Congress can be a swamp in one way.  Bills can be sucked into the muck of committee work and never see the light of day.

Conversely, clever Republicans can turn the table on Democrats and Obama by proposing popular pieces of legislation and daring Democrats to vote them down or challenging Obama to veto them.  Turnabout is fair play: the Republicans can then portray the Democrats as the party of no all the way up to November 2012.  Among the first legislative steps should be repealing ObamaCare, even though it won't happen because of the Democratic majority in the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House.  However, ObamaCare has grown even less popular as time has passed, and it is incumbent on Republicans to show their allegiance to the American people.  But that should be just a start -- and Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV has a wish list of legislation he wants repealed in his quest to make the 112th the "Repeal Congress."

The Power of the Purse

Republicans control the House and will hopefully be more fiscally responsible than their predecessor Congress -- since this was a prime reason many of them won (a hopeful augury was the defeat of Harry Reid's omnibus spending bill).  While deficits matter, so does the money given to particular agencies.  This is a potent tool to restrain Obama's agenda.

A particularly clever GOP plan is to slice and dice appropriation bills into dozens of "bite-sized" pieces, making it easier to kill or slash unpopular agencies.  The days of large omnibus appropriation bills that make it difficult to target specific programs and agencies may be coming to an end.

Of course, the House will focus on defending elements of ObamaCare.  While repeal will be desirable and proposed as a public relations gambit, full repeal will be all but impossible as long as the Senate remains in Democrat hands and Obama is in the Oval Office.  First and foremost, we can expect (if not demand) that Republicans work to deny the administration the money it needs to implement ObamaCare.  Politico reports that a likely strategy would be "to choke off funding for pieces of the legislation that they find particularly troublesome, such as the requirement to buy insurance, changes to Medicare," and the hiring of an army of new IRS agents to harvest as many tax dollars as they can to fund ObamaCare.  A host of other budget actions can be taken to weaken the most harmful aspects of ObamaCare.

Lisa Jackson has been on a crusade to interpret environmental legislation in a way that exceeds what congressmen intended when these laws were passed.  Indeed, even Democrats have threatened legislation to roll back her carbon-killing crusade because they realize the baleful effects of her zealotry on jobs and the economy.  Republicans will be writing the checks now, and this alone should have a chilling effect on Jackson's actions, not to mention those of other departments, which imperil America's recovery -- and a host of our personal freedoms.

Obama has enjoyed the congressional equivalent of the American Express card: a card with no spending limits.  That card will be cut in two in a few weeks.

Congressman Paul Ryan, the incoming chair of the House Budget Committee, will put on his green eyeshades and pore over the budget with a cleaver in his hand -- not the scalpel that candidate Obama promised but has remained sheathed.

Eric Cantor has been soliciting ideas from us to save money (a public relations stunt, but hopefully a signal that the GOP has heard our voices).

New chairs ranging from Michigan's Fred Upton (Energy and Commerce Committee) to Michigan's Dave Camp (Ways and Means) swear that they have found religion and will use the power of the purse to restrain Barack Obama.  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will scrutinize the foreign aid budget and also the policies of President Obama when she assumes the chairmanship of the House Foreign Aid Affairs Committee.  Chairman Spencer Bachus will do the same when he takes the gavel from Barney Frank and becomes the head of the Financial Services Committee.  Bachus can -- irony of ironies! -- review the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, as well as take on the powerhouses of Capitol Hill, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, which are sucking up taxpayer dollars like a Dyson vacuum cleaner.  The House-cleaning has just begun.

Tightening the Laws to Stop a Regulatory Tsunami

Congress has already shown that its hackles can be raised when the EPA has gone on the warpath (see the above comments regarding Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller's efforts).  But rules and regulations have been proliferating for decades.  Thomas Jefferson foresaw the problem when he wrote the Declaration of Independence and justified rebellion against George III, who "created a multitude of new offices, and sent swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance."  Ask any small businessman or professional if the situation is any better now.  The multitude of rules and regulations induces sclerosis that prevents our economy from growing and our people from being employed.

But so it is -- and it threatens to worsen -- when Barack Obama gives free rein to bureaucrats.  Republican congressmen along with sensible Democrats will sharpen legislation so regucrats will no longer trespass on legislative prerogatives and exceed the authority expressly granted to them.  This will be easier now that Republicans -- backed up by millions of right-thinking Americans -- are ascending the barricades.

But Obama's people do provide jobs for government workers and opportunities for lobbyists and politicians to milk free enterprise for all it is worth by exploiting the power they have over business to extract donations from them.  Lord Acton's aphorism is correct: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If Republican have read the tea leaves and the Tea Party correctly, they will appreciate that Americans are tired and scared of government overreach and in a rebellious mood.

The Congressional Review Act

As Ed Morrissey has noted, Senate Republicans may use a different tool to strike down regulations that are onerous and absurd:

When Republicans took control of the House in the midterms, they gained a powerful tool in combating regulatory excess with the power of the purse.  Senate Republicans may use a different tool in their minority efforts to contain the EPA's efforts to impose climate-change regulation by fiat, a rarely-used law called the Congressional Review Act.  Created in 1996, the law essentially allows Congress to veto regulatory changes created by executive branch agencies, and may become a sledgehammer in battling the Obama administration's regulatory innovations:

GOP lawmakers say they want to upend a host of Environmental Protection Agency rules by whatever means possible, including the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used legislative tool that allows Congress to essentially veto recently completed agency regulations.

The law lets sponsors skip Senate filibusters, meaning Republicans don't have to negotiate with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for a floor vote or secure the tricky 60 votes typically needed to do anything in the Senate.

The House doesn't have the same expedited procedures, but it's assumed the GOP majority would have little trouble mustering the votes needed to pass disapproval resolutions.

A spate of contentious EPA rules that are soon to be finalized could be prime targets, including the national air quality standard for ozone, toxic emission limits for industrial boilers and a pending decision about whether to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste.

Obama and his team will strive to interpret regulations and rules in ways that circumvent the intent of Congress when the laws were passed.  Republicans will have to be vigilant in uncovering and stopping these power-grabs.

We may already be witnessing the chilling effect (mentioned above) of the November elections on Obama's EPA: the administration has delayed a decision on whether to tighten limits on ground-level ozone.  This was a major goal of Lisa Jackson's EPA -- a bit of zealotry that would have costs as high as $90 billion annually by 2020.  Since the money belongs to other people, Jackson couldn't care less about the costs imposed on others -- but congressmen see those costs in terms of jobs and voters.

While Morrissey focuses on the EPA, the Congressional Review Act can be brought to bear on many other agencies to thwart Obama's agenda.  Ivan Osorio at the American Spectator has expanded the horizons by writing of the many actions Barack Obama has taken to reward his big labor pals that can be subject to review and termination under the Congressional Review Act.

These are just a few of the tactics Republicans might use to derail the Obama express; undoubtedly some of the best and brightest are formulating new ones before the next Congress is seated in January.  They had better work fast.

President Obama is addicted to the analogy that Republicans drove us into a ditch, that the keys should be taken away from them, and that if they want to come along for the ride, they can sit in the back of the bus.  That was before November 2.

Republicans have been handed the keys to the House by voters.  We have done our part.  Now they should do theirs: follow our wishes and make our concerns their own.  Or they might indeed have the keys taken away from them two years from now.

The clock is ticking.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.