Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and maybe even Ron Paul all must be rooting for Barack Obama these days — albeit just a tiny little bit.
Each is dreaming, of course, about a fall campaign in which he’s the one who gets to sell himself as the savior of a gridlocked (as well as bloated) capital. And each wants to be the one excoriating the incumbent for (among so many other things) flaunting the wishes of Republicans in Congress and ignoring their prerogatives to advance his own wrong-headed agenda.
And yet, precisely because each wants to become the 45th president — and to have at least the option to pull all the same levels of power and persuasion that Obama’s been tugging on — whoever gets the GOP nomination will quietly hold on to a sliver of support for the “We can’t wait” crusade of 2012. In principle, every potential president wants to be able to leverage the prestige of the White House podium and the reach of the regulatory machinery to shift federal policy to his liking, even when the House and Senate don’t agree. It’s just Obama’s current practice of executive authority the Republican field objects to.
And, as Emily Pierce explains in the opening piece for the first CQ Roll Call Outlook of this election year, what the president is trying to get done despite Congress is not all that ambitious — or unusually assertive, by recent historical standards. If it looks that way, it’s mainly because both parties have put their legislative teams on the sidelines through the elections; so long as he’s the only policymaker on the field, even Obama’s simplest moves will stand out.
Using the presidential recess appointment powers at a time when the Senate said it wasn’t in recess will likely stand out as the I-can-do-it-myself maneuver with the most lasting consequences, not only for the balance of power but also for the enforcement of labor and consumer protection laws.
And in that case, as in most others, Obama’s main objective has indeed been to trump the Congressional GOP on issues ranging from border security and high-speed rail to banking regulation, contraception, energy exploration and unfair trade practices. Details of those efforts are the backbone of this issue — which, like our previous Outlooks, seeks to provide a 360-degree view of an important slice of the current Washington agenda.