General Question

josie's avatar

Is the President breaking the law?

Asked by josie (27657points) February 11th, 2014

Congress passed a law. The ACA. The President signed the law. Now it is “The Law of the Land”.

But over and over, the President decides whether or not he wants to implement parts of the law.

Nobody seems to think this is unusual. But I think if any other President, of either party, decided to openly ignore a law, plus arbitrarily change it on a whim, there would be a shit storm of protest and criticism. But not for Barack Obama.

Or, maybe it is it legal for the Chief Executive, who is supposed to enforce legislative action, to simply pretend it never happened?

If so, I would love to be educated about which Article gives the President this power.

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46 Answers

kritiper's avatar

I don’t think he is breaking the law. I think he has a tendency to overlook other important details that greatly influence his decisions and law-making plans, and focus mainly on the main idea. (I think the ACA will work fine once outrageous medical costs are brought under control but he doesn’t seem to see that.) He is, and continues to be, a work-in-progress president.

josie's avatar

^ So it is legal for a President to act as if a law is totally His to selectively enforce as He sees fit?

SavoirFaire's avatar


Talking points again, @josie? If all you’re going to ask is a canned question, all you’re going to get is a canned answer. Here’s an article that explains why the president’s actions are not illegal.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The ACA like all social programs is administered by the executive branch, and the President is well within his rights and in fact is obligated to fix glitches and fine tune processes as he sees fit. It’s rather difficult to make the case that the President is acting in any way to benefit politically from these actions (though that won’t prevent Fox from claiming otherwise).

jerv's avatar

Every president has done things that are at least legally grey. Even Republican presidents. That makes this question so loaded it’s comical.

But I’ll play along since I’m bored.

The executive branch has the right to do a bit of selective enforcement. This right is most often when enforcement really doesn’t serve the public good. Have you ever been pulled over and gotten away with a warning instead of a ticket? If so, did you get on your soapbox about selective enforcement then?

In the case of the ACA, there are provisions that, if enforced strictly, would cause unwarranted distress, and thus it’s in the interest of the public good if we hold off on enforcement, at least for the moment.

bolwerk's avatar

I’m not sure if I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here, but I might say yes if you go by a strict reading of the U.S. Constitution. But, as @SaviorFaire’s link notes, courts have gone so far as to grant deference to executive agencies that are following the spirit if not letter of the law. They have to know legislation is complicated and not always easy to implement. As a result, all administrations have to use discretion when enforcing the law.

In any case, there is still recourse. If Congress objects so much, it can pass legislation to the effect that the law goes into force immediately without further delay or hindrance. The President would then be in the uncomfortable position of having to veto it. And if ⅔ of Congress agrees, they can override a veto.

Hear the crickets chirping?

kritiper's avatar

@josie Of course not. But some people do see it that way. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder. See @jerv ‘s answer ^^ above.

zenvelo's avatar

@josie When Congress passes a law, they often do not have the ability to determine how it will be implemented, so they provide guidelines but the nitty gritty rules and processes reworked out by the executive branch with the consent of Congress.

For instance, the law provides for expanded medicaid if applied for by the states, and full funding to the states for a number of years to cover the expansion. A number of Red States vote dot not accept that; they’d rather have poor people not be covered. Because of events like that, the executive is granted flexibility in implementation.

Cruiser's avatar

From a link in the article that @SavoirFaire provided that discusses __“an unconstitutional “refus[al] to enforce” a democratically enacted law”,__ reflects exactly how I feel about all of this….

__“Whereas the principle of separation of powers is a constitutional safeguard of liberty as asserted by James Madison in Federalist No. 47 in which he stated, ‘‘The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny’’__

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Cruiser The concentration of power into the hands of any branch of government is surely a problem. Democrats complained about it under Bush, and Republicans are complaining about it under Obama. But notice that the real problem here is not the illegality of either president’s actions—it is the legality of them. When powers accumulate as they have in recent decades, the actions we object to are problematic precisely because they have been authorized. As such, Madison’s quote—while spot on—is quite out of place in Rep. Garrett’s complaint. What he should have been complaining about is that Obama’s actions are, in fact, legal (because they are, and he just doesn’t like it).

Cruiser's avatar

@SavoirFaire I do in part agree with you but that shouldn’t get in the way of people expressing their opinions on the matter. The total legality though could be questioned and should be questioned because that is what Democracies do. The questionable part IMO lies within the spirit and meaning of what __McConnell contends, a president cannot “refuse to enforce a statute he opposes for policy reasons.“__

Now Obama has done many things with his ACA program that had everything to simply get re-elected. One was pushing the implementation of the website while knowing full well is was a non-functions POS. Now we haves this postponement of the employer mandate which has everything to do with shielding vulnerable Democratic Congressmen and Senators from irate voters next November had this employer mandate had to take effect. This is the element that IMO does bring policy reasons into play and it has legs because it was Obama who established this date in the first place. But now that he has been getting pressure from these Dems who are nervous about next Nov because there will be lots of pissed off people who will be losing their jobs or going to part time once this mandate takes effect. Kicking this can down the road again to shield Democrats from this backlash smacks of policy reasons.

The Constitution clearly states that the President does not have the power to change legislation because he does not like it or for policy reasons.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser When you start complaining just as much about the actions of the governments of most red states, I’ll consider your arguments valid. Until then, I’m going to consider them just as biased and politically motivated as you claim Obama’s are, and I’m sure I’m far from alone there. If it really was about the issues instead of partisanship, you’d be just as outraged by both Bushes and a few Southern/Midwestern governors.

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv Just so you know I have same number of complaints about the Republicans (Boehner is a self-serving, incompetent drunk) and FYI I am conservative not a Republican. I mostly concerned with fiscally responsible policy and have not seen anything like that in well over 10 years.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Cruiser I haven’t said a single word against people expressing their opinions on the matter or against questioning the legality of these actions. All I have pointed out is that his actions are, in fact, legal and that Rep. Garrett misused a quote.

In any case, of course a lot of this is politics. I’ve never said otherwise, and in fact have said so in other threads. I’m not an Obama fan, and I’m not an ACA fan. So please don’t respond to me as if I were part of Fluther’s liberal contingent.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser Fair enough, and thanks for the clarification. Personally, I’ve seen little fiscal responsibility from either side since I started paying attention to politics over 30 years ago.

Cruiser's avatar

@SavoirFaire I am sorry if you may have misconstrued my comments as an attempt to pigeon hole you into a predisposed corner of any point of view. I stand behind my answer as measure and reasoned and trust you are as open as I am to opinions expressed that address the questions or comments. That said I will beg to differ as to the intent and overall legality of Mr. Obama’s machinations as of late, as it is more than obvious he not only has nothing to lose by ignoring the Constitution and modifying his own signature legislation and seeing it is his own party that has everything to lose if he does adhere to the letter of the Constitutional law by letting the law stand as HE initially intended it to be. It is all purely for “policy reasons” and I challenge you to argue otherwise.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser The devil is always in the details, andI wonder how much difference there is between the letter of the ACA law and it’s intent. The Law of Unintended Consequences can be a cruel mistress, and I cannot rule out the possibility that there’s some things that they failed to consider when passing the law that they realized after the fact weren’t as well thought out as they should’ve been, much like the Patriot Act.

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv Very good point. What doesn’t sit well with me though is all the lies. Yes if I were an Obama supporter I would be saying way to go Barry you got yourself re-elected with those clever well timed lies. But now everyone is paying the price for these lies including those that supported this IMHO POS legislation, Obamacare is not less expensive, no….many do not get to keep their existing health insurance, no…many people do not get to keep their doctors and the real, I hope unintended consequence as it would truly suck if the writers of this legislation knew that people would lose their jobs over this law and many many more are going go to part time AND lose their business supported heath care benefit as well.

Yes the only reason Obama delayed the employer mandate is in a vain attempt to appease his fellow Democrats who will be getting an old fashioned thrashing in the polls next November because of the backlash from all these lies and unintended consequences…or were they unintended???

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser The fact that Obamacare seemed like such a good idea when it was Romneycare adds irony to the whole situation :D

As for the problems you point out, those seem to only be issues with companies run by people that make you seem like a flaming Liberal; might be a coincidence, but those seem to be the only ones even thinking of cutting hours, benefits or headcount. Those like my wife’s employer who actually gave a false price quote (they said $280/mth; fact-checking revealed $212/mth) to make Obamacare seem worse than it is, or Papa John’s head honcho who, when the math was done, was proven to be off by a couple of orders of magnitude in his cost estimates. Those who are Moderate/Liberal enough to know the difference between a dime and a dollar, or that 5 is less than 8 don’t seem to be too shaken up by the ACA. Or if they are, they are vastly eclipsed by the educationally disadvantaged that only serve to rile the ignorant and discredit those with valid, sound criticisms of the ACA.

A quick digression about November; The lies are spread all around on both sides of the fence, so I think that any backlash you see coming is at least balanced (if not overshadowed by) the backlash Republicans will get for a long list of reasons, including (but far from limited to) numerous empirically provable lies (not ideological ones or opinion ones, but things like failing at simple numbers), and right-leaning Moderates and traditional Republicans being pissed at them allowing the GOP to get hijacked by wingnuts. Sure, they will sweep the normal places that wouldn’t vote Democrat if their lives depended on it (and the ones that don’t allow Democrats to vote), but I don’t see the Republicans getting a slam dunk this November. At least not so long as the Northeast and the West Coast (in other words, where most Americans live) are still part of the US. Most likely scenario is more of the same; deadlock in Congress, both sides piling the bullshit higher, and they’ll all vote themselves another pay raise.

dougiedawg's avatar

If the President was breaking one single law, Congress would be on him quicker than a cat can grab a wayward mouse.

All the grumbling is just that and until you see impeachment charges you should know who holds the high ground.

Personally, all the polarization in politics seems to stem from who can control what as I read it. It would be nice to see the elites play nice for a change, wouldn’t it?

bolwerk's avatar

What is pissing off “conservatives” now is the ACA is starting to work. It’s actually saving people money and reducing cost growth. Granted, it’s not working well enough, but when your whole argument all along has been how much of a disaster it will be and how the pre-ACA status quo was the best option, you can’t really say that.

In any case, I don’t think Obama is lying about this. He is wishy-washy, he probably thought it would work as planned, people probably told him THINGS ARE PEACHY WE HAVE EVERYTHING UNDER CONTROL and he ignored the sweat on their foreheads, blah blah.

Cruiser's avatar

No @bolwerk what is pissing me off is that my Blue Cross Blue Shield health care policy that was working very well for my company is going to cost me $1,1000 MORE a month for the same plan from BCBS under Obamacare and we also now have to pay $324.00 per month re-insurance tax as well. Such a deal!

bolwerk's avatar

@Cruiser: BCBS seems like they were jerking their customers around – because they knew about the fees years ago. The reinsurance pool sucks if you’re on the business end of it, but from what I can tell it actually makes sense as a matter of policy, and it’s temporary anyway.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser Some companies are swapping their BCBS plans for comparable-but-cheaper plans from other providers. Both my previous and current employers did so. Yeah, it might be a hassle, but having to shop around for the best deal is the price we pay for having a free market.

bolwerk's avatar

@jerv: Not sure this is what happened to @Cruiser, but I think some people with BCBS did end up being locked into contracts and had the rates passed onto them midway through the contract. Sneaky, shitty, but legal.

It’s more BCBS’s fault than the ACA’s, in any case.

Cruiser's avatar

@bolwerk and @jerv… In all fairness…AFAICT…one of the reason(s) my monthly premium went up was in part or in total because BCBS had to comply with the demands and new requirements of the ACA….one of which was to automatically include pediatric dental care. The prospect of that has to cost me something and I expect it is a portion of the increase I am experiencing.

As I pointed out before….my company and the health care benefit I chose and saw fit worked just fine for the first 17 years of my kids lives and just the same for all the other employees kids lives….I have already paid for all the pediatric dental care my kids needed out of my pocket…what sucks the most is it is no longer a choice for me or my employees how or who pays for this pediatric dental care. I really liked having the freedom to choose who and how those bills got paid.

The kicker here is…I had a free market choice I no longer have….employees had a free market choice they no longer have…ACA is a gun to the head….say goodbye to another freedom to choose what you want in your life.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser So, you also have a deep hatred of computer makers for forcing Windows on people and jacking up prices to compensate for the money they must pay Microsoft. And what of the unavailability of ashtrays in new cars? If you hate the ACA for reasons of choice, then you’d be hypocritical to not hate a huge chunk of the private sector. Just saying….

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv I don’t hate anything…hate is not my style. I simply like to enjoy the freedom to choose…stay on topic if you can. BTW…if I don’t like what MS is doing I can take the bite of the Apple and I have many times

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser I am; I merely don’t think along the same tracks most people do.

That’s why I’m honestly slightly perplexed by this whole discussion about selective enforcement, and all of the double standards that are being brought up. Personally, as half of a childless-by-choice couple, I sympathize with your desire for more á la carte options like lowering costs by making pediatric care optional, but by the same token, I fail to see how it’s a bigger issue than other choiceless things that also cost me money.

BTW, Apple is even worse when it comes to limiting options, and you pay a hefty premium for the gold-plated shackles they bind you with. For true options, it’s DIY and choose your own OS… and acquire the skills to make a working computer. Learning is the gateway to freedom.

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv At least for me it is a bigger issue because it was working just fine before Big Govermnet stepped in a F’d everything up big time as it is prone to do. The private sector was functioning just fine to provide health care to those who needed it. For those 34 million who were not insured before ACA….a vast majority did not want or need health care. It was their free choice to not have to pay for health care and a good portion of the rest were not eligible for free health care under Medicare. The fact now is that the vast majority of enrollees of Obamacare are enrolling in Medicare. So I ask why did not our Government leave the private sector health care alone and simply expand Medicare to cover those who need health care and were unable to prove eligibility? A fraction of the cost of this train wreck Obamacare website could have paid for the cost to give away health care to those who were/are uninsured.

bolwerk's avatar

Re ”So I ask why did not our Government leave the private sector health care alone and simply expand Medicare”: probably a good idea that would have saved money, but it was Republikans and “moderate” Democrats who would not countenance that. Most of the flaws in the ACA are really because Obama capitulated at every turn to right-wing and industry demands.

I don’t buy the ‘free choice” argument though. People who are “choosing” to be uninsured are typically choosing between insurance and, at best, a little more disposable income and, at worst, food or shelter or some other basic need. Some of them still get sick, and their they force everyone else to pay without any choice in the matter the costs of their unpayed medical bills.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser Working just fine? Try telling that so someone who grew up with too much household income to get Medicare or food stamps but too little to both pay rent and buy food in the same month. Wait…. you just did!

Why didn’t they let the private sector handle it? Because the private sector got predatory and required intervention. Yeah,government intervention does fuck things up,but the fact that it’s the lesser of two evils should tell you how badly the private sector fucked up.Simple solution; don’t fuck up so bad that government steps in! This could’ve been avoided decades ago,and I have no sympathy for those that hoist themselves by their own petard.

Why not expand Medicare? Well, that would’ve been nice, except that it would lead to more people relying on government, and therefore never would’ve even gotten to a vote in Congress. @bolwerk called it.

The real question is why we can’t do what every other civilized nation does. Why do we pay 5 times as much for healthcare that is far from the best in the world? That’s the root of the problem, and the ACA is merely a symptom of a far greater ailment. Until we cure the disease, we’re just going to have worse symptoms.

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv…IMHO there is very little in our society that requires big government intervention that cannot be handled and dealt with on the State level.

Free markets level the playing field where needs, wants and demands are dealt with because wants or needs is blood in the water to the corporate sharks that smell opportunity for a profit. Profit is not all bad…profits are the fuel of a well oiled economy and allowing a lethargic bloated Government to get in the way only poisons the economic well like we have witnessed these past 6 years. OK add in the last 3.5 years of Bush.

Over 9 years is too long a time to allow a government to smother economic growth and steam roll over our freedoms of choice over what we want and need.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser That’s like saying we don’t need courts and jails because people are inherently good and honest. Notice how most of the people who complain about being arrested are those who commit crimes? And if you look at Florida, the states can be worse. Kick the South out of the US and you might be right, but so long as the Confederacy has stars on our flag though, you’re dead wrong on states being able to handle things.

Profit can be good. Doing anything regardless of the human cost or the harm it inflicts on others is bad.

Over 30 years is too long to allow the decline of the middle class, subjugate the lower classes, and support an unsustainable economic policy for the plutocracy.

bolwerk's avatar

Courts and jails are welfare for lawyers and jail guards.

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv Agreed! But why then has the anointed one who has had control of Congress for over 6 years plunged the average American further into debt rather than elevate their household income? I know I have not had a raise in 6 years so I making a whole hell of a lot less money when adjusted for inflation and know I am certainly no alone.

bolwerk's avatar

Because another stimulus is also ruled out by Congress, which the President does not and constitutionally cannot “control.”

Cruiser's avatar

@bolwerk I disagree…a President has the innate power to lead and challenge his Congress to work together to pass laws that encourage economic progress and benefits both sides of the Isle. I remember Barry making this very promise when he campaigned and yet he has failed miserably at that job he was elected to do. Reagan did it, Clinton did it and ever GWB did it for 5 years.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser ”...the anointed one who has had control of Congress for over 6 years ”

Loaded, and completely ignorant of the fact that Congress has two chambers, one of which has been Republican-led by a considerable margin for most of the time since Obama’s inauguration.

Second, that trend started long before Obama. Or are you saying Obama is now in his 4th term?

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv…face the facts sir…Omaba campaigned and promised Change…and has failed miserably to deliver despite having 2 years of a totally democratically controlled Congress and even still having a majority in the Senate things for the average US citizen are suckier than ever. How can you justify and support this in any way?? This is not a problem generated by the conservative this is a problem caused and it is time that Liberals accept and own the fact that their progressive policies have only plunged us further into unrecoverable debt..

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser Just because I am blasting you for not getting your facts straight, don’t assume I am supporting any Democrats. This problem started before Obama, and actyually seemed to come to a head when the White House and both sides of Congress were controlled by Republicans.

So, either party has nothing to do with it, or it’s Conservatives that caused it. Which is it? The Democrats had no more to do with this than the Republicans, so the question is whether the Republicans did it themselves (and thus deserve the blame while Democrats stop getting blasted) or whether this clusterfuck was a bipartisan effort. Or are you going to metaphorically insist that the Mustang was made by GM instead of Ford?

Cruiser's avatar

@jerv it is time to stop the blame game as the Dems have had now 6 years to right the ship and have only succeeded in nearly sinking the ship with debt.

I say cut taxes and let that influx of cash into the economy stimulate growth and new opportunity….what is your magic solution to this stagnation the Dems have created?

bolwerk's avatar

@Cruiser: most of Obama’s legislation is scuttled in the House or by Senate filibuster. This was the case even when the Democrats controlled both chambers. Even if your IMHO very sensible suggestion that Medicare or Medicaid be expanded to cover the uninsured was able to pass the House intact in 2009, it could have been scuttled if a single Democrat joined the 40 Republikans who were willing to filibuster it as a block.*

And your narrative about the state of the economy is just…wrong. Obama has not precipitously raised the deficit, and if anything is dropping it. The Obama half of the two ~trillion dollar stimuli in 2008/2009 were the only appreciable increase to the deficit that arguably has Obama’s mark.

Second, it’s not 1983. There is a perhaps unprecedented shitload of cash in the economy and has been pretty much all along. It’s not being spent, however, on hiring. All things being equal, more tax cuts probably just means more of it gets hoarded.

* Okay, I can’t remember if it was those exact numbers, ‘cause maybe one or both of those “moderate” Maine GOP Senators actually would have supported it.

jerv's avatar

@Cruiser Okay, I just have to walk away after that one. You can have a joyride in your Chevy Mustang as the sun takes another trip around our flat Earth; I’ll be here in reality where history actually happened and facts are true.

This is why talking politics with Conservatives is hard. Differing ideology is one thing, but ignoring things like Obama not being in power until Jan ‘09 (not ‘01!), or the actual party breakdown of Congress over the years is just ludicrous.

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