In a recent Huffington Post article, Dan Froomkin urges President Obama to pursue a progressive agenda despite the recent takeover of the House by Republicans. How can he do this? He can start using his regulatory authority, his executive powers, and his prerogatives as commander in chief in ways that bypass obstructive Republicans. But the question is: Will he choose to do so?
Froomkin suggests the following ways President Obama can use his power as President to help ordinary Americans:
Do a real audit on the banks and pursue criminal charges
The President has power under the Dodd-Frank Act to give relief to people with underwater mortgages. Regulators could conduct real audits of the big banks exposing the fiction that toxic mortgage paper is worth 100 cents on the dollar. Many banks would be found insolvent, allowing the regulators to dissolve them under new rules, or, force them to write-down mortgage principals and increase lending to small businesses.
President Obama could pursue criminal charges and show he is on the side of the American people. By using criminal prosecutions, he could curb the financial sectors desire to return to the practices that caused the financial meltdown.
Write progressive regulations for the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act.
Because Dodd-Frank left so many things to the regulators, much of the bill has yet to be written. Through insisting on tough regulations, President Obama could stand up to the powerful corporate interests who are lobbying for a weak implementation of the law. If he was willing to be publicly tough on Wall Street, he would let the American people know he is committed to protecting them.
Address climate change and Immigration
Even though Republicans have taken over the House, President Obama could unilaterally make progress in both areas. Because the Supreme Court has given the EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions, he could impose a cap and trade system by executive authority or go part way, by focusing on regulations for utilities. Also, he could use the threat of EPA action to help get an energy bill through Congress.
On immigration, the president could reverse deportations of undocumented immigrants that have actually increased under his administration. He could create new rules so that if you were paying taxes, or in school, you wouldn’t be deported, and define a clear path to legalization.
Take on campaign finance through better regulation
The Supreme Court’s January decision in Citizens United allows for nonprofit groups to spend unlimited amounts of anonymous money on campaign ads. President Obama can’t overturn that ruling, but he could clamp down on the abuse of nonprofit rules that fueled the midterm explosion of secret money. According to the rules, 501(c)4s and 501(C)6s must spend their money exclusively on “charitable, educational, or recreational purposes. Karl Rove’s non-profit American Crossroads GPS, that funneled millions into the midterm elections, ignored the clear intent of the law. If the IRS were to classify these organizations properly, donors could be held liable for a gift tax, and have to disclose who they are.
Enforce existing health and safety laws
The main thing President Obama could do is to enforce existing laws having to do with health and safety hazards. He could initiate aggressive civil and criminal prosecutions in areas like mine safety, meat inspection, FDA review, workplace safety monitoring, imported food, Clean Water Act violations and dirty coal-fired power plants. And of course he could bring the full weight of the law to bear against BP.
Withdraw from Afghanistan, stop enforcement of DADT, get tough on China
President Obama could reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by bringing in new, creative ideas. As for Afghanistan, he could admit it could be his Vietnam and reduce and refocus his mission.
President Obama has the power, as commander in chief, to unilaterally stop the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay soldiers. Only Congress or the courts can actually overturn the law, but Obama could halt the discharges and suspend enforcement.
He could affect job creation by insisting on stricter enforcement of trade accords and could demand that exporting countries including China adjust their currencies and economies. Drawing a line with China and letting the dollar drop could put millions of Americans back to work.
Enforce existing labor laws and pressure businesses to hire
President Obama could take a stand for decent wages for workers by enforcing existing labor laws that prohibit phony classifications of workers as temps or contract hires, and establishing new rules for government contracting to reward good labor practices and punish scofflaws.
Next he could set up meetings with major business and financial leaders, and goad them into taking some of the mounds of money they are sitting on and spend it or invest it in ways that would create jobs. The president has a bully pulpit and he should use it on behalf of the people of this country.
Hire independent, main street friendly cabinet members
Froomkin suggests that President Obama clean house by getting rid of Wall Street friendly Tim Geithner and Larry Summers (who is leaving) and bringing in independent voices who will aggressively enforce the law against corporate wrongdoers and deal with the very serious problems the country’s facing.