- Published: October 31, 2021
- Updated: October 31, 2021
- University / College: Rutgers University–Newark
- Language: English
- Downloads: 6
Presidents are granted constitutional, institutional, and political sources of power. Among these, the constitutional powers can be considered the weakest. This constitutional power to create and pass legislation that would soon turn into bill and then into laws are possessed by the Congress. The Congress has a wide range of influence over many aspects of American daily life. The Congress is tasked to create laws regarding “federal spending, taxing and regulation .” Despite this obvious constitutional weakness, presidents continually sought to overcome policy-making challenges by expanding their powers in three ways: political parties, popular mobilization and administration. Contemporary presidents wereable to overcome major constitutional constraints throughout history.
Political parties are a central aspect of the political system in America. Political parties also have a major influence on several issues discussed in Congress. In legislation, US presidents depend on the members of their party to advance their legislative agendas in the House of Representatives.
In 2009 during the Obama administration, the importance of parties in assembling citizen support and initiating congressional debate was highlighted over the discussions in healthcare (308). Getting support from the two houses from members of the Democratic Party became a major challenge for the Democrats despite garnering 84 percent support from Democrats in the Congress and all of the 60 percent in the Senate. The Republicans, however, held a unified stand against passing this bill and as a result, only one Republican voted for the healthcare reform (308). Another example is when President George W. Bush worked directly with congressional GOP leaders regarding matters on energy and Medicare reform.
Despite a president’s influence, parties still maintain their own independence and autonomy. Besides that, presidents also have more chances of garnering votes if their party is in the majority (505). When the president’s party is not in majority or if the party members’ opinions are not unified, contemporary US presidents make use of two more other methods: popular mobilization and executive administration (505).
Contemporary American presidents develop several strategies to garner support for their own programs and policies. Televised pressed conferences were the most effective medium of the John F. Kennedy. Bill Clinton utilized carefully staged televised town meetings where the president seemed like he was consulting his citizens about his goals and policies as the reporters ask him several questions about his plans. Clinton also made the White House Communications Office, an important body in the Executive Office of the President (EOP), which handles reporters’ queries regarding the president’s plans and goals. George W. Bush continued this practice but also made it an effective communications tool that promotes the president’s goals, responds to embarrassing news, and makes sure that the news presents a favorable image of the president. Barrack Obama, on the other hand, uses more of his own public speaking capabilities in reaching American citizens rather than relying on the materials made by the Communications Office. These presidents use popular approval in promoting their legislative agendas as well as overcome congressional opposition.
Interests groups are also significant in influencing several policies that the Congress decides on. It is also important in pushing the president’s legislative goals forward. Many lobbyists were former members of Congress or had ties to members of Congress, important political figures or key law makers. The lobbyists’ influences are, most of the time, based on “personal relationships and behind-the-scenes services” that they do for lawmakers. In 2009, President Obama’s main legislative priority was healthcare. It was also a major congressional agenda. 300 industry groups hired hundreds of lobbyists to promote their interests (401).
Interest groups can also extend outside the government and towards the grassroots to mobilize public approval or action. One example is when President Clinton announced the put a ban on gay and lesbian soldiers, evangelical leader Reverend Jerry Falwell called on his audiences on his TV program by urging them to support Clinton by calling a number to add their names in a petition (422).
Mobilizing public approval is not the main foundation of advancing a president’s legislative goals. The public is not fickle and many times, the president can fail to garner public support as with the case of George W. Bush when his approval rating dropped by 39 percent on 2005 as the unpopularity of the Iraqi war was growing more prevalent (506).
The president may have indirect access in getting his own legislative agendas turn into bills but he has direct power in approving or turning down acts of Congress. No bill vetoed by a president can become law unless both the House and Senate override it by a two-thirds vote. However, presidents don’t veto a bill unless necessary. George W. Bush did not find using his veto necessary until 2007 when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. In his last two years of administration, he has vetoed eleven bills. In the first two years of President Obama’s administration, he only used his veto once regarding a spending bill enacted in December 2009 (493).
Another presidential power is the legislative initiative where the president can create proposals for important policies and matters. The president’s initiative “sets the agenda of public policy” (496). One example is when George Bush took several initiatives to Congress following September 11. Each of his initiatives was given unanimous support on both houses (496). During President Obama’s administration, he immediately dealt with the America’s financial system and health care.
The president also has the power to issue executive orders and other instrumental tools that “have the effect and the formal status of a legislation (495).” During President Clinton’s administration, he “issued 107 directives to administrators ordering them to propose specific rules and regulations (509).” The language of the rules is sometimes drafted by the White House staff but in other cases, the president just asserts a priority but leaves it to the agency to draft the language of the proposal. When President George W. Bush took office, he continued this practice of issuing directives to agencies to urge them to create new regulations.
Another example is when President Nixon issued an executive order which instituted the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970–71. This also included the establishment of the Environmental Impact Statement. Most executive orders are administrative which applies to the affairs of the executive branch in respect to a single agency or a whole department. President Obama also issued several executive orders. Many of them were created to rescind orders from the previous administration. Obama closed Guantánamo prison and ended illicit interrogation methods towards terrorist suspects.
Twentieth century American “presidents have been able to accomplish quite a bit without much congressional, partisan, or even public support (509).” Presidents have increased their administrative capabilities by enhancing the reach of the Executive Office of the President (EOP). With this, presidents were able to increase White House control over the federal bureaucracy. The role of executive orders and other instruments of direct presidential governance were expanded as well.
In my opinion, the president has strengthened his power from his command of armies, bureaucracies, and the general institutions and agencies of the state. Contemporary US presidents have continually increased their participation in several policy-making processes. Presidents have increased their powers unilaterally for the last fifty years and the Congress, on the other hand, have weakened.
Contemporary presidents are able to overcome the most challenging constitutional and political constraints. With the evidence presented above, I think that the balance of power between the president and the Congress is shifting more unilaterally towards the president. The president has institutional and political powers that can be used to overcome his constitutional weaknesses. I think that in the future, the presidents may be able to increase their influence much more if it was unchecked. If the Congress cannot count on their constituents and other social forces, the president still commands the institutions of the state, and the Congress will be left with nothing. On the other hand, the Congress may be able to counterbalance the president’s institutional powers with the support of significant forces in society as well as the support of the citizens.
Ginsberg, Benjamin, Theodore Lowi and Margaret Weir. We the People: Introduction to American Politics, 8th Ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010. Print.