The Ebb and Flow of Executive Power

Roundup: Media's Take

Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform — Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”

Executive orders have been controversial since the founding of the republic. They have long given rise to complaints from members of Congress that they infringe on its legislative power. But at the same time, it is obvious that legislative language cannot contemplate all of the means by which the laws are to be enforced; some executive latitude is clearly necessary.

Conflicts between Congress and the White House on executive orders tend to be greatest when each is under control of a different party. I can find no evidence that the Republican-controlled Congresses of the 1920s objected to the 1,203 executive orders issued by Calvin Coolidge, nor did the Democratic Congresses of the 1930s complain about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 3,522 executive orders.

President Obama has issued 168 executive orders and at this rate probably will issue fewer during his two terms than George W. Bush, who issued 291.

The modern history of congressional concern about executive overreach begins with Richard Nixon. His Executive Order 11615 on Aug. 15, 1971, was among the most expansive in history, freezing all wages and prices in order to control inflation....

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