Is President Barack Obama overstepping his executive authority by declaring he would not sit idle while an obstinate Republican-led House of Representatives repeatedly demonstrates that opposing him is more important than moving the country forward?
Politically speaking, the president's actions (using executive orders) are understandable. If Congress won't work with him, why should he spend what's left of his administration waiting for a legislative branch that is morally opposed to compromise?
It was not that long ago that post 9/11 fear, aided by Congress, allowed for the expansion of executive authority.
Does the president's actions today rival those spearheaded by former Vice President Dick Cheney's extraordinary expansion of the presidential powers? The Bush administration wrote energy policy behind closed doors with oil executives, rescinded long-standing treaties, and fallaciously used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq.
But politics is not the lone consideration.
Nowhere is the use of executive order specified in the Constitution. The president is instructed by Article II, Section 3, Clause 5 to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." His failure to do so could result in impeachment.
If this president were remotely close to overstepping his constitutional authority, I'm quite certain House Republicans would be gearing up for impeachment proceedings.
Every president, beginning with George Washington, has used the executive order as a tool in his governing arsenal.
On Sept. 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued perhaps the most famous executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation that granted freedom to the slaves in the 10 states in rebellion. The Proclamation was not a law passed by Congress but was based on the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief of the armed forces.
Franklin Roosevelt issued arguably the most infamous executive order on Feb. 19, 1942. On the heels of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066, which interned and appropriated the property of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast.
Obviously, President Obama is not contemplating anything that rises to the level of Lincoln or Roosevelt. His actions are as constitutional as the other 42 men who previously occupied the Oval Office.
Moreover, the president's use of the executive order and the accompanying predictable criticism from Republican opposition is tantamount to much ado about nothing. Executive orders are limited in scope. It is not a vehicle by which the executive branch can nullify the will of Congress.
The president's recent executive order to increase the minimum wage for workers under new federal contracts to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25, will affect roughly 2 million employees.
Its real impact is to build momentum for a minimum wage hike for all Americans. He can do nothing on this latter point without Congress.
But we should be concerned about the impact of the president's proposed use of executive orders. Is this the way we want the people's business conducted?
Each president sets a precedent for the successors. When Obama assumed office, he did not annul the expansion of presidential powers assumed by President George W. Bush. The danger lies in whether the president's actions become the standard moving forward.
It is an astounding irony that the party that shut down the government and lowered the credit rating of the nation, that views compromise as a pejorative, would begrudge the president for exercising his last remaining option to move the country forward, even if it is only limited in nature.
But the use of executive orders in this matter makes the president part of a dysfunctional cesspool.
Should we blame the president for executive overreach and threatening to curtail our constitutional liberties? Or should our contemporary state be seen as the residue of what George Bernard Shaw opined: "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve?"
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.