President Joe Biden has been busy during his first days in office signing a flurry of executive orders, everything from health care to climate change to racial equality to immigration.
He signed 22 just in the first week, which is almost twice as many as the last eight administrations put together in their first week.
Even the New York Times editorial page, which supports much of Biden’s agenda, is calling on the President to slow down.
“Ease up on the Executive Actions, Joe,” advises the editorial in Thursday’s paper. “President Biden is right to not let his agenda be held hostage,” the paper said, “but legislation through Congress is a better path.”
Presidential executive orders are not laws, but they are close. They are directives through the executive branch that dictate how the government will function. Presidents have always used them—some more than others—and they have become a more popular tool with recent administrations. Here is a comprehensive list.
Trump issued 220, which is 56 fewer than Barack Obama, but President Obama served two terms. George W. Bush issued 291, while Bill Clinton issued 364. Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the record with 3,721, while John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe only issued one each.
Executive orders are a quick and easy way for Presidents to advance their agendas. However, the increased use of them to bypass the legislative process is a poor way to run a representative government, as the Times pointed out.
“But this is no way to make law,” the Times editors wrote. “A polarized, narrowly divided Congress may offer Mr. Biden little choice but to employ executive actions or see his entire agenda held hostage. These directives, however, are a flawed substitute for legislation.”
Executive orders are unilateral actions, meaning there is no buy-in from the country’s elected leaders in the House of Representatives or the Senate.
Naturally, the source of the criticism of executive orders depends upon who is in the White House; When Trump was handing out the orders, Democrats complained. Now the roles are reversed.
Executive orders create uncertainty. Take the climate issue, for example. President Obama bypassed Congress and used his EPA to try to impose the Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions. President Trump reversed that with his own executive order. Both have been tied up in the courts, and now President Biden is issuing his own executive orders on climate change.
How can the energy sector hope to stay in compliance while also planning for the future if the goalposts keep getting moved? That conundrum is less likely with legislation, which would carry greater weight and likely survive court challenges.
Congress bears some of the blame, since the minority party is often more interested in blocking legislation while the majority party knows it has the votes, therefore bipartisanship is unnecessary.
Still, we are a republic with co-equal branches of government. If Biden truly wants a more unified country, then he should spend more time and energy building consensus with his former cohorts on Capitol Hill rather than governing by edict.