‘‘Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.’’
— President Ronald Reagan
In 2014, President Barack Obama directed the U.S. Department of Labor to update the rules concerning overtime pay. On Dec. 1, those rules go into effect. The president, with little more than his signature, forced companies to pay overtime to some 4.2 million workers who were previously exempt.
While it may result in larger paychecks for some employees, it will cause a few problems. Many salaried workers will be converted to hourly, and so they’ll lose certain benefits and prestige, and may view the shift as a demotion. Workers will have less flexibility to go the extra mile to do their jobs. And some employers will cut the base pay of employees to offset the overtime payments.
However, this is not a rant about the new overtime rule. It is a rant about our administrative state and the threat it poses to our liberties.
According to the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 1 to be precise, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
Yet, this new rule, costing private businesses hundreds of millions of dollars a year, was enacted without congressional approval. This is the modern administrative state.
Our government was created with three separate branches, thereby placing into different hands the lawmaking, the enforcement and the adjudication powers of government to avoid abuse and protect liberties. It was another example of the brilliance of the Framers.
Yet, today, executive departments make rules that carry the power of law, they enforce those rules and often they adjudicate and punish violators of the rules.
That is a lot of power placed into the hands of the chief executive. And it is a recipe for tyranny.
Such power can and is abused. We have seen it frequently in the past eight years.
Obama is a serial abuser of executive power. Some examples include his unilateral delay of the employee mandate of the Affordable Care Act and offering federal subsidies to those on the federal exchange in direct contradiction to the law; in 2012, while courting the Latino vote, Obama issued his Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which told federal agencies not to enforce immigration laws in some circumstances against the will of Congress; his unilateral decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court; his abuse of recess appointments when Congress was not even in recess; and his abuse of executive orders to bypass Congress.
And he bragged about that last one: “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said in 2014.
This after he continually berated President George W. Bush for his abuse of executive power.
But, and here is the problem, President-elect Donald Trump also has a pen and a phone. And a history of vendettas against those he believes wronged him as well as a long history of corrupt behavior.
As he wrote in 2007, “When someone intentionally harms you or your reputation, how do you react? I strike back, doing the same thing to them only ten times worse.”
During the campaign he threatened to use the power of law to go after journalists who angered him, he threatened to imprison his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and he praised dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un for their murderous behavior. He obviously believes true leadership involves threats and violence.
And soon he will have the entirety of the regulatory state at his power to enrich his friends and hurt his enemies.
We really don’t know, yet, how Trump will use that unconstitutional power that has been growing since President Theodore Roosevelt gave birth to the administrative estate at the beginning of the 20th century. But I sure will enjoy the hypocrisy of those who defended Obama’s use of unilateral executive as they rail against Trump for doing the same thing.
Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney with the Hearn Law Office in Wapakoneta (419-738-8171) and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.