Ending the Imperial Presidency

I have a theory — that we are living through the end of the “Imperial Presidency”, with the accompanying restoration of the Congress as the center of power in federal government.


“The Imperial Presidency”. Those who have watched as many presidencies as I have (or more) know that term. It has been around for the entirety of our modern presidency — which I put at all presidents starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration, in the midst of the Great Depression. It was FDR who swung the presidency like a club, sweeping across the economy and the “general welfare” of a nation in dire straits. FDR wasn’t always attentive to the Constitution along the way, and met resistance from conservatives, the opposition (Republican) party and businesses. But his New Deal reforms are entrenched in government programs to this day — and the presidential power that he exercised before and during World War II set the tone for the Imperial Presidency that continued long after he died.

All presidencies since FDR have tried, with varying degrees of success, to deal with the challenge of the Imperial Presidency. We’ve had other Imperials — JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, W and Obama. All of them were accused — correctly — of expanding the dominance of the White House. In most cases, Congress pushed back hard and SCOTUS blocked the way, but the popular perception, at home and internationally, was that of a dominating, celebrity POTUS.

With 45, it’s different — significantly different. First, he is showing himself, unsurprisingly, to be utterly incompetent and ignorant, and has surrounded himself with friends who are equally ignorant, equally incompetent or just too obsequious to resist him. Add to that the departure, by voluntary or forced resignation, of the knowledge leadership in the executive branches, and the slow pace at which that leadership is being restored. The executive branch is in the hands of idiots – and that is widely accepted to be true, at least for the time being.
Second, importantly, Congress is all Republican. This gives Congress the ability to do whatever they want and to succeed in demanding that their fellow party member in the White House go along with it. They are soon to move SCOTUS into their camp as well (because they can), taking down any final barrier to Congressional “overreach”.
This creates the framework for a very powerful Congress that can lord over a much-weakened presidency. The Republican Congress has been testing its strength against the Obama presidency and, by any measure, succeeded beyond their expectations. And while he was frustrated often, Obama was a president with enormous personal strength of will and intellect. He could wield a law-making scalpel to get some things done because he understands the law, if not the politics of legislating. And he surrounded himself with like-minded people, equally knowledgeable.
By contrast, Obama’s replacement is a dolt both in the law and in legislating (or even in simple management) and his posse does not make up for that weakness.
So the stage is set for a dominating Congress to tower over a much-diminished White House in a way that we haven’t seen in 75 years or more. And that shift may be long-lasting. I expect the “Imperial Presidency” to be a concept shuffled off to history, replaced by a presidency marked by weakness at home and abroad.
One very significant implication of this weakened presidency is the role of “Command-in-Chief.” Can a strong Congress permit the president to exercise the military as his predecessors (W and Obama) could? They passed “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF) for W, then essentially let it continue for Obama. With a weak president — especially one who is desperate to demonstrate his self-imagined “strength” — the AUMF is a very dangerous weapon. I expect Congress to pull it back and restore its constitutional power “to declare war”.
A second implication of this weakened presidency is how the United States is perceived internationally. If the US — both in Congress and among the people — do not see a powerful president, how will foreign nations relate to the US? Will they invite the president to a state visit and to negotiate treaties if they do not see the president as a true leader? Perhaps the Speaker of the House will rise in importance internationally as the true leader of the United States, in the same way that the Prime Minister is viewed in parliamentary governments. Perhaps the president will become head of state in title only, in the view of our allies and enemy nations alike.
BOTTOM LINE: Presidential elections of the future will mean far less and have far less real impact than the bi-annual Congressional races. Focus.

Image credit: An East View of Gray’s Ferry, near Philadelphia, with the Triumphal Arches, &c. erected for the Reception of General Washington, April 20, 1789 , line engraving (1789) by James Trenchard
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Dear Congressman: Oppose Repeal of PPACA

A letter to Congressman David Trott, Michigan’s 11th Congressional District:

January 15, 2017

I was disappointed that you did not attend the Save Our Health Care rally event at Macomb Community College in Warren today, Sunday, January 15, 2017. Several thousand Michiganders were present, including myself and many others from your District, along with several of your colleagues from the House of Representatives.

It is imperative that you OPPOSE efforts to repeal the PPACA. This should go without saying if there is nothing to replace it. But even if there is a replacement plan, a repeal introduces chaos and uncertainty into the health care marketplace for insurers, providers, patients and payers all. How do we plan? How do we protect ourselves, our families? What can we depend on?

Repeal is what you do with something that is doing more harm than good, or something that is doing no good at all. I’m certain that you know that the PPACA has brought good for millions of Americans since it took effect in 2010, including hundreds of thousands in Michigan and thousands in the 11th District. I don’t just mean those on Medicaid, though there are thousands who’ve benefited from that. I don’t just mean those who qualified for subsidies, though there are thousands who’ve benefited from that. I don’t just mean those with Medicare, though Medicare’s viability has been extended through the PPACA. I don’t just mean those who’ve seen their Plan D coverage improved, though there are thousands of those who’ve enjoyed that benefit.

I also mean those who’ve been encouraged to avoid health problems, because of wellness care and preventive care that is incorporated into PPACA.

I also mean those who’ve finally stepped up to paying a fair share into Medicare, through the added taxes that PPACA applied to those most able to afford them.

I also mean the balance that has been brought into the insurance companies through the Medical Loss Ratio that PPACA mandates — a provision that makes the insurance market more competitive and also makes health care cost more manageable for the patients.

I also mean the health care exchanges which simplified shopping for health insurance for the many millions who entered the market for the first time in their lives.

I know many people — some friends, some strangers looking for help, some as close as my own family — who have benefited from PPACA. For some of them, the benefit is measured not just in dollars — it is measured in better health, in early discovery and treatment of unknown ailments, in longer and better lives.

Beyond all of these direct benefits that PPACA has brought, there are several other reasons for preserving PPACA. These apply specifically to Michigan.

In Michigan,what had once been our “insurer of last resort” — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — no longer exists. Because PPACA was taking effect, the state legislature, guided by Governor Snyder, pushed to convert BCBSM from a state-chartered preferentially-treated insurer bound by “guaranteed issue” obligations into a mutual company subject to free competition in the marketplace. If PPACA is repealed, the “guaranteed issue” provision will go with it — and those who are “uninsurable” because of pre-existing conditions will find themselves abandoned again, as they were before PPACA.

In Michigan, what has been the SCHIPS program — “MIChild”, providing healthcare for low-income children — was effectively replaced, when PPACA brought about the Medicaid expansion. MIChild no longer exists. But if PPACA is repealed, the Medicaid expansion will be repealed as well — leaving Michigan’s most in-need children without access to healthcare.

PPACA is a large, far-reaching and complex program, in much the same way that the health care industry is a large, far-reaching and complex industry. In its first rendition, born as it was out of many political and financial compromises, PPACA is imperfect in several respects. Certainly, PPACA can and should be improved, its defects can and should be repaired, its reach can and should be extended, its cost-control mechanisms can and should be more effective.

But the underlying principle of PPACA is this — that we do not live as individuals in isolation from each other. We live in a unified society, where each of us is dependent in some way on and for others. When we formed this country, we shaped a government using the words “We, the People” — not “I, the Person”. In writing these words, we committed to looking out for each other, to forming a united society in which we all contribute so that we all survive, so that we all can enjoy the fruits of our nation. That principle is expressed in PPACA, where those of greater means, and even those of average means, are called on to contribute so those of the least means are not abandoned when it comes to good health care. To that end, some of us are paying more taxes than we would otherwise have. Some are paying higher premiums. Some are seeing new doctors. Yes, these are sacrifices — but for every person who is paying some small sacrifice, there are others — maybe many others — who are gaining life-saving benefits.

That’s what we are called on to do as Americans. Because being an American means that each of us is committed to the People, not just to ourselves. We are willing to sacrifice in some small way — some dollars, some change — so that We the People, as a People, all benefit.

You should fight against any effort to repeal PPACA. Fight to improve it. Fight to better it. Fight to expand it. But fight hard against repeal. Too many have benefited. Too many would be hurt.

Please vote and campaign vigorously to OPPOSE REPEAL of PPACA.

Thank you.