There has been conflict between the President and Congress in United States of America for a long time. The sources of conflict range from varying terms of office, fluctuating support for the president and constitutional ambiguities. Other factors affecting the relationship are the constituencies represented and political party representation in the senate.
This paper examines the conflict between the Obama administration and the senate on the DREAM act and the ability of the president to bypass congress to achieve his own agenda. This is not the first time the President has used his power to bypass congress.
When it comes to issues that pass on sensitive topics such as immigration, foreign policy, defence and war, the President and congress have had disagreements on the way forward.
The country’s constitution made the law-making process a procedure that cannot be conducted solely by the president or congress due to conflicts of interest and to protect the American citizens. The two sources of power have to work together to create laws and enforce them. The system is meant to provide checks and balances in the law-making process.
This paper also discusses the presidential and congressional powers and where there seems to be overlapping of powers. The constitution may not be specific in certain areas causing ambiguities which the current president and former presidents have used to increase the power of the president compared to the senate.
Congressional and Presidential Power
The congress is the legislature arm of the federal government which constitutes of the Senate, known as the upper house and the House of Representatives, known as the lower house. There is separation of power in the constitution where by the senate must pass
legislation and the president cannot do so on its own. The separation of power was entrenched in the constitution in order to provide a system of checks and balances. The president and congress would control each other to ensure there is no abuse of power. The senate is the body with the mandate to ratify treaties and presidential appointments into the cabinet, the federal courts and other influential, high offices in the government (Edwards, 1978).
The DREAM act
In the United States, there is usually tension between the President and Congress as it has been observed over the last few years especially in the Obama presidency. The president may push for a certain bill to be enacted into law however the Bill is shot down in congress. At times, the president concedes defeat however there are times the president may issue an executive order that ends up bypassing the congress decision.
This came to pass recently in the DREAM Act presented before congress in 2011. The DREAM Act has stirred up controversy with several camps supporting it while others contesting the bill. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors) and came into operation in 2001. The law would provide a pathway to legal residency for the children of illegal immigrants who entered the country before there were 16 years of age.
They would be granted legal status if they fulfilled certain conditions. They must have lived in the USA for a period not less than five years. They must have graduated from high school and joined college or even the military. President Obama on May, 10, 2011 called for the congress to take strategic and deliberate steps that would help the country take care of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country (Demirijian, 2011).
The primary concern with the DREAM Act is the status and privileges it will award alien children in the country. In USA, alien children have access to free public education till high school level however it becomes difficult to access higher education due to the provisions of 1996. The provision of 1996 prohibits a state from granting aliens certain post-secondary educational benefits based on the status of their residency unless the same benefits are conferred upon the American citizens.
Even as the president waited for congress to deliberate on the bill, there were those who were calling on him to take matters into his own hands and make an executive decision to help these immigrants while congress was still performing its duties. The president however at that time, in September, 2011, stated that America is a country of laws and there are processes in place that created a system that worked for all the people.
He stated that America was a democratic country and the bill had to pass through congress before coming into his hands (Madison, 2011). Those advocating for the president to issue an executive order were remembering what had happened in 2010. The House of Representatives had given hope to the immigrants by passing the DREAM act however Congress slammed the door by rejecting the bill (Katigbak, 2010). In the House of Representatives, the bill had been passed by a bipartisan majority of 216 votes against 198 however in Congress it failed to garner the 60 requisite votes to enable it to become law. Congress argued that passing the bill into law would simply provide an amnesty for the law breakers. The people who sneaked into the country would be able to live in the country after a specified period of time. It would in fact encourage illegal entry into the country. However, those who support the bill argue that children should not really be held responsible for their parent’s actions. There were many concerns on the deportation of many immigrants to their countries.
Obama’s earlier sentiments changed in 2012 because he chose to bypass congress. In June, the president issued an executive order to stop the deportation of immigrants. He allowed 800,000 young immigrants to continue staying in the country and furthermore they would be granted work permits. In his speech he said that it was the “right” thing to. It was not a permanent solution but a temporary solution. He had not granted the illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. It was not amnesty or immunity (Harnden, 2012).
Under the Obama administration plan, deportation was ceased for the undocumented immigrants who came to the country when they were younger than 16 years and were currently less than 30 years of age and they had no criminal records. They would be granted work permits that would be valid for two years and renewable. Illegal immigrants however will not be able to apply for the waiver until they turn sixteen. The immigrants who are younger than 16 years would not be deported either.
The administration plan has been welcomed by the immigrants especially in the Hispanic community as it removes the threat of deportation and extends their stay in the country. They would be no restriction on the number of times that the work permit would be renewable.
The republicans however did not take the announcement kindly. They view the action and other instances of prosecutorial discretion on immigration bills as back-door amnesty. The republicans desire for more border controls before first implementing the DREAM act. Romney, one of the law makers prefers having the young immigrants in the military being granted legal status rather than the ones who are in college.
This is not the first time there has been tension and conflict between the Obama administration and Congress. It has been argued that throughout his term in office, the president has been undermining the constitution. When the internet regulation bill failed to pass in congress, the president bypassed congress by announcing that the Federal Communications Commissions would still regulate the internet.
There is also a recent bill that has failed to gain support in the senate known as the cyber security bill. Experts and other scholars are concerned that the president is planning to issue an executive order to bypass congress. The president and the Congress have certain powers conferred on them by the constitution. The congress has an important role when it comes to the area of national defence especially when it comes to declaring war. The constitution states that the congress has the power to declare war and the president has the power to repel any sudden attacks. The president, as the commander in chief may deem it necessary that the country goes to war however he must get congressional support.
This has been an area where there has been a lot of conflict and tension between the presidents of the United States and congress. President Obama instituted attacks on Libya yet he had not received congressional support for his actions (Ruse, 2012). In March, when the situation become grave in Libya, the United States and its European allies participated in air strikes in the country in a bid to bring regional stability and acceptable rule in the country.
In another instance, the cap and trade auto emission bill did not receive support in congress therefore the president decided to take actions that would still achieve what he wanted anyway. The country started auctioning the greenhouse gas emissions which led to taxation and the president was able to regulate the emissions. In yet another incidence, the Employee Free Choice Act was presented before congress and did not get the necessary support. The bill would increase the participation of employees in these unions.
When the Bill was not passed, the President pushed the National Labour Relations Board to issue pro-union regulations that allowed the union to hold snap elections. The employers also gave the unions the e-mails and phone numbers of the employees to the unions.
The congress has been given the power to approve presidential appointees. The president however was able to circumvent getting the approval when he made four recess appointments when the congress was in a pro-forma session. Once the bills are passed in congress, the president has a choice whether to enforce the bills or not. The president has been able to push his agenda, mainly to get the gay vote by supporting them in certain matters. The Obama administration directed the Department of Justice not to defend the Marriage Act (DOMA). He also directed the Department of Defence to change its policy on homosexuals who are serving in the military. This is seen by experts as a move by the President to secure the gay vote. His decision on the DREAM act is also viewed as a way for the government to retain the Hispanic vote against growing competition from the Republicans.
There are scholars who have deliberated on the sources of conflict between the president and congress. The president has been elected by the whole nation and is concerned with policies that will benefit the whole country as a whole. Secondly, the president can rule the country for a maximum period of eight years yet the term of the congressman is unlimited. The senator can be in congress for more than eight years. He is concerned with re-election, which is a short-term objective while on the other hand the president objectives are long-term.
The president does not focus on re-election alone. He focuses on building a legacy and establishing a place in history as an honoured politician who had good and lasting public policies. The president has a short time to accomplish this. The senate may take time to pass new laws yet the president wants the reviews to be conducted quickly.
The senators have a tendency towards distributive policies while the president focuses on redistributive policies. The congressman wants his constituents to benefit while the president wants the whole country to benefit. The congressman is elected by the members of his constituents to represent local interests but the president is elected by the whole nation.
Another source of conflict is the political parties within congress. The President may be a democrat when the majority of the senators in congress are republicans. They will generally be conflict on which bills that the president approves get support and which do not.
Even if the same party controls congress and the presidency, there may still be conflict because the different senators in one party may have different ideologies on which bills should be passed into law and which should be rejected.
There are also constitutional ambiguities that may cause conflict between congress and the president. The president has been given the power to make an executive order which presidents have been using frequently to increase their power. At times there is high pressure from the public especially on social matters for the president to act. As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he is able to command the troops into war and presidents have been stretching their powers by declaring and entering into war with the Middle East and other nations without the express approval of the congress (Moe & Howell, 1999).
Another source of conflict is the fluctuating support of the president or the congressmen. At times the president may have a lot of support in the congress however as time passes, the senators waver in their support and stop considering the bills that he favours the way they used to do so before. There is also the support of particular congressmen in the senate and there may also be fluctuating support for them and the bills that they support. All these politics increase the tension between the president and the congressmen. Due to all these factors, the conflict between the president and congress has been observed with all the past presidents of the United States and not just the current president.
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Edwards, G. (1978). The president and congress: The Inevitability of Conflict.
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Harnden, T. (2012). Republicans divided over Obama's shock plan to allow 800,000
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Katigbak, L. (2010). US Senate rejects 'DREAM Act' for illegal migrants. Retrieved from:
Madison, L. (2011). Obama pushes DREAM Act, but says he needs Congress to do it.
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