To celebrate America’s 1976 bicentennial, ABC released one of my favorite animated Schoolhouse Rock songs, “I’m Just a Bill”. The dancing, rolled-up piece of paper named “Bill” dances on the U.S. Capitol steps singing, “I’m just a bill, I’m only a bill, and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill”. Little did “Bill” know that he could stop wasting his time sitting and just speed through the process by becoming an Executive Order. “Bill” should disregard the slow process of engaging 435 representatives and 100 senators, representatives of the people’s voice, debating and deliberating the pros and cons of legislation, compromising, and building consensus. “Bill” could encourage the President to push through personal policies and reward supporters with a single stroke of a pen: Sign an Executive Order!
Even though the U.S Constitution does not expressly allow for Executive Orders, “Bill” discovers in Article II of the Constitution as head of the Executive Branch and commander in chief of the armed forces, the President “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed”. Since 1789, approximately 15,700 Executive Orders have been signed using this implied power. With this knowledge, “Bill” is excited for the sitting President to use Executive Orders to enlarge the Executive branch while the Legislative branch’s role shrinks, and the backbone of the Republic weakens. But hey, with an Executive Order the desired policy now has the force of law – what could go wrong?
Those left out of the process are to take comfort in knowing that, like laws, Executive Orders are subject to legal review and may be ruled unconstitutional. Similarly, Congress can revoke an Executive order by passing new legislation. “Bill” doesn’t worry about the Judicial Branch or Congress because while these branches of government wrangle over the Executive Order and move through the constitutional process, the Executive Branch continues its march forward with its authoritarian rule.
After four years, if an election brings in a new President from the opposing party, “ Bill” goes back to sitting on Capitol Hill. For with the same stroke of the pen, the incoming President eliminates the previous administration’s orders. “Bill” now understands the seesawing effect of Executive Orders and the vicious cycle of uncertainty that hurts the economy. The inability of the American people to make sound decisions on legislation impedes their confidence and impacts millions of people’s daily lives.
“Bill’s dream that he will “someday be a law” hinges on Congress reengaging its responsibility to limit unchecked executive power, to end its failure to write and pass laws that respect the concept of “Government by the people….” Congress must rein in the use of Executive Orders that lead down a dangerous path of a single person ruling by decree.
Published in Faribault News, February 2021