President Obama started flexing some muscle last week.
First, he made a recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republican Senators have vowed not to confirm any candidate for the post until the bureau itself is weakened, and after months of delay, Obama finally just shoved Cordray through using the old presidential trick of seating a nominee while the Senate is in recess. As Colorlines.com’s Kai Wright explained, this is a big deal because the CFPB is the only reform to come out of the financial crisis that looks out for people’s financial interests—-particularly poor folks and people of color, who are most likely to suffer the consequences of predatory banking practices.
Social justice advocates have been haranguing the president throughout his administration to use just this kind of authority. From immigration to jobs to civil rights, the executive office has broad powers to make meaningful policy changes through how it administers programs—changes that don’t require congressional approval. The Obama White House has, however, been reluctant to use that power. In his first three years, Obama has issued 108 executive orders—-fewer than the 126 George W. Bush’s first three years, or the 151 that Bill Clinton signed between 1993 and 1995.
But in 2012, as the GOP primary unfolds, it seems the president’s perspective has changed. In addition to the Cordray appointment, Obama sat three members of the National Labor Relations Board, appointments that were necessary to keep the board functioning. Then he announced a rule change that would allow undocumented immigrants who are parents or spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for visas without having to first return to their countries of origin.
It’s not likely a coincidence that the White House suddenly began feeling its power right as GOP primary voting kicked off. And that got us wondering: What other changes could racial and social justice advocates get out of the newly emboldened president? Here are a few others that folks around the Beltway are talking about.
Giving Homeowners With Fannie and Freddie Loans the Right to Stay in Their Homes
Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy Research says there are no “slam dunks” likely, but he says he’d love to see a executive order that would let folks who received predatory loans stay in their houses. “He would have to work around that they are managed by [the Federal Housing Finance Agency], which ostensibly has an independent non-political appointee as its chief. Part of the reason is that Obama failed to nominate someone back in 2009 when he could likely have had that person approved. Even with the administrator (Ed Demarco) he possibly could have gotten this policy in place either through public pressure or backdoor persuasion. It likely would have cost FHFA little or no money (DeMarco’s stated concern) and could have provided substantial housing security to hundreds of thousands of homeowners.” Will it happen no? Sounds doubtful.
Banning Sexual Orientation and Gender Bias in Federal Contracts
Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin has endorsed the possibility of President Obama signing an executive order that would ban discrimination against federal contractors based on their gender or sexual orientation. “Everyone deserves a fair chance to earn a good living, judged by their talent, ability and qualifications free from discrimination,” Harkin said. “Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible, which is why I am a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).” Harkin says he remains “hopeful” that ENDA will pass, but in the meantime, movement on the federal contractor order could re-start the momentum on ENDA. Will it happen? It’s actually likely, according to sources at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ending Hiring Discrimination by Religious Organizations That Receive Federal Funds
Back in 2008, candidate Obama told an Ohio audience, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them—or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion.” Since then, he’s signed two executive orders that attempt to address President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative and its potential for hiring discrimination. According to ACLU religious freedom lobbyist Dena Sher, “Each [order] failed to address the hiring discrimination issue in any way.” And when Obama’s committee on faith tried to address the issue, the White House apparently decided the committee should focus on other things. Perhaps so Obama could pave the way for an executive order? Will it happen? Unclear.
Declaring China a Currency Manipulator
Sounds ominous, and Baker notes that, “it certainly would not be desirable to actually declare China a currency manipulator and get into a full-fledged trade war.” But the upside of such an executive order, he says, is huge: “I suspect that if Obama held up the stick of declaring China a currency manipulator and held out the carrot of dropping complaints about respecting copyrights for Disney and Microsoft or pressing for market access for Goldman Sachs, then he could have gotten China to do more to raise the value of its currency against the dollar. Since other countries follow China in raising the value of their currency, this could have led to a considerable improvement in the trade balance, translating into hundreds of thousands of jobs.” Will it happen? Not a chance.
Got any ideas of your own for the president’s executive authority? Drop them in the comments.