Emergency.

Faced with a Republican Congress created by a majority of Republican voters, President Obama resorted to executive orders and administrative regulations to act on climate, immigration, and wages.  None of these initiatives have fared well with the courts.

For example, in February 2016, the Supreme Court issued a stay on President Obama’s regulations on the coal industry as part of his effort to respond to climate change.[1]  For example, in June 2016 the Supreme Court (4-4) upheld a lower court’s rejection of President Obama’s 2014 executive order that would have allowed almost half (5 million) illegal immigrants to escape deportation.[2]

For example, in May 2016, the Obama Administration’s Labor Department issued a regulation on over-time.  Previously, only workers making less than $23,660 a year were eligible for time-and-a-half over 40 hours/week.  Under the Labor Department regulation, anyone making less than $47,500 a week would qualify for overtime.  Businesses assumed that the new regulation would be sustained by the courts, so they began raising pay to the new minimum and by turning full-time workers into hourly workers.  Then, just before Thanksgiving, a federal judge in Texas (of course) blocked a Labor Department regulation on overtime pay.[3]  The Trump Administration is likely to withdraw the regulation.

So, who is in the right here?  Hard to say because a lot of jobs pay very little and require an awful lot.  Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that long hours involve constant toil and bullying by idiot supervisors for lousy money.  For that matter, the idiot supervisors themselves put in 60 hours a week or more trying to get to the next level.

On the other hand, one can easily get the feeling that Democrats believe that every business is Microsoft: immense profits from immense profit margins.  In fact, retailers, restaurants, and grocery stores all run in thin profit-margins.  Thus, when Washington, DC, mandated a raise in the minimum wage, Walmart cancelled plans to build two new stores in the district, and Washington restaurants cut employment by 1,400 workers in the first half of 2016.[4]

It seems likely that one part of President Obama’s “legacy” will be a judicial restriction of executive authority.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing from a non-partisan perspective.  American voters often have chosen a divided government.  This is annoying for politicians (Republican as much as Democrats) with agendas they want to push.  The resort to executive orders and regulatory changes does offer a way around this dead-lock.  However, it establishes a pattern of circumventing the Constitution’s division of powers.  Any president can portray anything s/he wants to do as the solution to some “emergency.”

[1] See: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/10/us/politics/supreme-court-blocks-obama-epa-coal-emissions-regulations.html?_r=0

[2] See: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/23/politics/immigration-supreme-court/

[3] “Issue of the week: Judge halts new overtime rule,” The Week, 9 December 2016, p. 38.

[4] “Proof that wage laws backfire,” The Week, 11 November 2016, p. 12.

Still More American Public Opinion.

What do Americans think of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? The polls have been blurry. In March 2014, 41 percent of people approved of the ACA, while 53 percent of people disapproved. There was a big partisan break-down: 72 percent of Democrats approved it, while only 8 percent of Republicans approved it. Those figures raise their own puzzles. Why are 28 percent of Democrats opposed to the law or unsure if they approve it? If 72 percent of Democrats and 8 percent of Republicans approve the law, where do Independents stand? In another poll in May 2014, 61 percent that they either wanted Congress to leave the ACA in place or—at most—tinker with any flaws. In contrast, 38 percent of people wanted the law repealed.[1] Approval of the ACA appears to have shot up from 41 percent to 61 percent, opposition to have fallen from 53 to 38 percent. Did this mark a sea-change in attitudes toward the ACA or a polling error?

What do Americans think about race relations? In 2009, after the election of Barack Obama to be President of the United States, 66 percent of people thought that race relations were good. Then came the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. In August 2014, 80 percent of African-Americans thought that the shooting “raises important questions about race that need to be discussed.” Only 37 percent of whites agreed. Almost half of whites—47 percent—thought that race was “getting more attention than it deserves.” In December 2014, 85 percent of African-Americans disapproved of the decision by the grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown. Overall, 45 percent of Americans disapproved of the decision, while 48 percent approved it. By January 2015, 40 percent of people believed that race relations were “fairly good” or “very good.”[2] There is a rough similarity between the figures for those who had believed that race was getting too much attention, for those who approved the decision not to indict, and for those who believe that race relations are good.

What do Americans think about opportunity in America? In November 2014, 24 percent of people believed that the economy is “fair to most Americans,” while 71 percent think that it “generally favors the rich.” A majority—57 percent–of those who earn more than $100,000 a year agree. However, 43 percent of those who did not vote in November 2014 were African-American or Hispanic-Americans, and 46 percent earned less than $30,000 a year.[3]

What do people think about getting anything accomplished in government? In January 2015, 60 percent of Americans believed that the Congress elected in November 2014 will not accomplish any more than the previous bums. Even more, 72 percent, doubted that the Republican majority in the Senate would accomplish anything more than did the Democratic majority. Some people seem frustrated with this situation, while others are satisfied. Thus, 46 percent of people believed that President Obama should wait on action by Congress to solve the immigration issue. According to the first poll, however, most people expect that such action will not come. In contrast, 42 percent of people favored the president issuing an executive order to deal with immigration. Finally, 59 percent of people favored building the Keystone XL pipeline. This included not only 83 percent of Republicans, but also 43 percent of Democrats.[4] The president vetoed that bill.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 4 April 2015, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 May 2014, p. 15.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 29 August 2014, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 12 December 2014, p. 19; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 16 January 2015, p. 17.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 November 2014, p. 19.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 January 2015, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 28 November 2014, p. 15.