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The Saturday Night Live used its cold open last weekend to skewer the way President Barack Obama has redefined the lawmaking process through an unprecedented use executive orders and actions to get around Congress, the most recent example of which is the administration deferring action against some 5 million undocumented immigrants.
The skit uses Schoolhouse Rocks! "I'm Just a Bill," an educational short which explains how a bill becomes a law, to explain how the executive actions and orders have undermined this constitutional process. In the skit, the bill (Kenan Thompson) sings about how he must first be passed by Congress before he winds up on President Obama's (Jay Pharoah) desk. Obama, however, pushes the bill the bill out of the way, sending him tumbling down the steps.
"[T]here's actually an even easier way to get things done around here," says Obama. "It's called an executive order." The executive order (Bobby Moynihan) comes on screen, singing to the tune of the Schoolhouse Rock! song, "I'm an executive order, and I pretty much just happen." When asked about the role Congress is required to play in the process, the executive order responds, "Aw. That's adorable. You still think that's how government works."
The bill keeps trying to come back up the steps, only to be pushed back down by Obama, who argues that presidents "issue executive orders on the time." The executive order chimes in with the melody, "That's right. I can do lots of things. I'll create a national park or a new holiday."
"Or grant legal status to 5 million undocument[ed] immigrants," Obama sings, surprising the executive order.
Though parody, the skit offers a peak down the perilous path President Obama has taken. While immigration may be the policy subject, ultimately, the real issue here is the continuing expansion of executive power under this administration. President Obama's friends will argue that he's issued fewer executive orders or actions than his predecessors, but the substance of his rule by decree has further blurred the constitutional lines between the executive and legislative branches.
In 2008, then-candidate Obama blasted the power grabs of his predecessor. “I taught constitutional law for ten years. I take the Constitution very seriously," Obama told a crowd of supporters. "The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all, and that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States of America."
But, in the Oval Office, President Obama has tossed his academic views aside. Instead, he's further expanded the powers of executive in a way that would make his predecessors blush by completely rewriting statutes in ObamaCare, waging war without congressional authorization, ignoring due process rights of American citizens, and, now, bypassing Congress on immigration.
The problem with this expansion of executive power and lawlessness, outside of the obvious constitutional implications, is the very real likelihood that President Obama's successors, both Democratic and Republican, will use it as precedent to push policy without the consent of Congress. This is an ominous situation for the American people, whose rights and liberties are almost an afterthought in the current debate over executive power.