It is usual to provide an incoming President with a hundred days following the inauguration. This common courtesy permits the electorate to see and feel first-hand the substance of the chief executive’s leadership potential. Unfortunately, the country does not appear to have that luxury of time.
President Barack Obama is obviously cognizant of his role as chief executive and the power contained in Executive Orders. His first orders dealt with morality and ethics in the halls of the government, including the White House. He also emphasized the role of law in his order to the Guatanamo military establishment.
He could, however, take a major – perhaps unprecedented – step forward to assure the nation of his boldness of leadership and incisiveness of economic options. Despite the Democratic Party’s majority in both the House and Senate, partisan bickering already continues the rift concerning the proposed “stimulus package.” Pork-barrel bills under the guise of “make-work” programs may eventually help an incumbent in his or her constituency in two years. It is doubtful whether they can institute rapid employment or renewed investment to help solve the current crisis. From many sections of the document it is obvious that it is pet projects, rather than meaningful emergency legislation, that are intended.
Obama could handily issue an executive order labeling the current economic crisis as a “national emergency,” operate with a minimum of federal bureaucracy, and continue his effectiveness and popularity with the electorate.
The executive order would be based on existing precedents.
It would immediately suspend the Federal Income Tax in its entirety.
It would simultaneously institute a flat, national sales tax to offset the loss of federal revenues to continue smooth operation of existing governmental infrastructure and mandated programs.
It would allow the President a minimum of six months without Congressional interference and partisan bickering to establish the priority of needs and wants of the country in the national, not merely partisan, interest.
The main benefit of such an executive order would be to renew the confidence of the electorate in the stability and predictability of government leadership. Markets thrive and prosper on predictability, rather than chaos.
It would free individuals from the time and money involved in complying with the complex and unpredictable legislation affecting the annual tax codes.
It would permit the individual to decide where and how to spend his or her own money, instead of working for roughly four months each year for income tax withholdings. The various states could emulate the federal program within their own jurisdictions if they so desired. California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the way of a state executive order on December 19, 2008 to stave off immediate bankruptcy. While taking various steps to stop that state’s hemorrhaging spending, Schwarzenegger stopped just short of mandating a change from the state’s income tax to a consumption tax.
Strict constitutionalists, no doubt, will immediately howl and point to the potential danger inherent in the chief executive’s application of such an executive order. They have done so from George Washington to George W. Bush and every President in between. The existence of Executive Orders now applies to physical dangers to the country, as well as less defined “national emergencies.” Few, if any, have been effectively challenged.
Previous Executive Orders set ample precedent. Qualified attorneys can point out the obvious benefits and drawbacks for President Obama.
From his campaign to his inauguration, Barack Obama has often invoked the image of Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps he can take the step further by emulating Lincoln’s courageous use of executive orders to solve today’s crisis in the United States.