M.D. Harmon: Obama usurps legislative, judicial authority with welfare memorandum


I guess, if I had to stand in a crowd listening to President Obama brag about what he’s done so far and what he plans to do in the next four years if he’s reelected, I might faint too.

News reports said that upwards of 20 people fainted at a speech he gave last week in hot, muggy weather in Roanoke, Va. Either the heat or the power of the president’s presence (your choice) apparently had members of the crowd toppling over like tenpins.

So, the president told his prostrate partisans that if they needed help, “the paralegals” would come to their aid.

Sure, he misspoke, and one should not make too much of a slip of the tongue, any more than when he said that people who lived in Austria spoke “Austrian,” or that there were 58 states in the union (not, as often reported, 57 — “I’ve now been in 57 states, and I think there’s one more to go,” was what he said).

Or when, while in Poland, he referred to Nazi-run death camps in German-occupied Poland as “Polish death camps,” greatly offending his audience. Or when he said “It’s good to be in Texas” when he was in Kansas. Or — oh, forget it. If Dan Quayle had said these things, he’d still be a running joke on late-night TV.

And then there’s Vice President Joe Biden, who at one speech told a man confined to a wheelchair to stand up and take a bow …. Sigh.

It’s a good thing for us that our leaders are such intelligent, accomplished people, with records of achievement that run the gamut of government service to … er, more government service.

Private sector accomplishments? Run businesses, hire people, create jobs, provide paychecks, produce useful goods? Ah, not so much. Or not at all.

In fact, actually creating jobs and establishing going concerns is, we are told continually in Democratic campaign ads, a liability for Mitt Romney, because some of the businesses he was involved in lost money or couldn’t make a go of it.

Which means, he took risks, which is the heart and soul of entrepreneurship. You only are a success if your viable efforts outnumber your stillborn ones, not that you never fail. If you don’t fail from time to time, you are not taking the kinds of risks that lead to spectacular successes.

No, what’s much more important about our president is when he speaks accurately about what he believes — although you need to keep close track and do frequent updates.

The really scary things, the ones that keep you up at night wondering if God really does keep watch over fools, drunkards and the United States of America, come when the president speaks out in all sincerity and honesty about his vision for the nation and its laws.

Here are a trio of recent examples. Recall that Obama said, while campaigning for office in 2008, that a president was not constitutionally empowered to change immigration laws by himself. But a mere four years later, by a wave of his newly empowered hand, he forbids law enforcement authorities to deport young illegal aliens who came to this country while they were still in parental custody.

Now, it’s not by itself a terrible idea: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., himself a citizen born to legal immigrants from Cuba, suggested something similar in a recent speech. But Rubio realized that the law had to be changed to permit it.

What’s scary about Obama is that he apparently thinks that he is the law, and he can alter it at his whim, simply by ordering a change in “prosecutorial discretion” in such cases.

As a number of former prosecutors (including National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombing case in 2003) leaped from their chairs to note, that’s not what “discretion” means. It gives prosecutors leeway in individual cases to modify charges and sentencing requests, but it never has been used to apply to a whole class of people covered by a specific law.

Until now, that is.

But that’s not the only case of “l’etat, c’est moi” syndrome we’re seen on Obama’s part.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld part of an Arizona law allowing police officers to ask people detained for other offenses to show proof of legal U.S. residence (not by any means a “stop and frisk” measure, which is why the court upheld it), the Department of Homeland Security, under the leadership of “Big Sister” Janet Napolitano, told Arizona authorities that federal officials would no longer accept inquiries from the state regarding a immigrant’s legal status.

That led one wag to say that, in not honoring a state law upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court, “the United States had seceded from Arizona.”

There’s more. A July 16 article by Todd Gaziano and Robert Alt on the Heritage Foundation’s website ( strongly criticized an administration ruling July 13 that allowed states to change the welfare-to-work requirements specifically laid out in the 1996 welfare reform law passed with bipartisan majorities and signed by President Bill Clinton.

They said the Department of Health and Human Services is authorized only to change the reporting requirements of the states under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) section of the law.

However, an entirely different section says that the work-to-receive-benefits part of the law cannot be waived by memorandum.

Here’s the relevant portion: “Section 415(a)(2)(B) of the welfare reform act, now codified at 42 U.S.C. § 615(a)(2)(B), expressly states that “a waiver granted under section 1315 of this title (the one that HHS now claims it is acting under) or otherwise which relates to the provision of assistance under a State program funded under this part (as in effect on September 30, 1996) shall not affect the applicability of section 607 of this title (which applies the work requirements) to the State.”

That means, they say, that “whatever else might be said of the scope of the waiver authority, the secretary has no lawful authority to waive the work requirements of section 607, which is what HHS is contemplating in its memorandum.”

So, Obama is usurping legislative authority, and to some extent judicial authority, when he does such things.

In so doing, he treats as ineffectual, and therefore essentially nonexistent, a founding principle of American society.

To see that more clearly, we can turn to the writings of John Adams, who incorporated a phrase he had often used before into the founding document of his native state.

It is in Article XXX of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Here Adams speaks to our present dilemma, and his words are worth noting in their entirety (my italics):

“In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at:

About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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