John Podesta and the Imperial Presidency

What’s all this about “checks and balances”?

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

After Politico profiled John Podesta, Republicans pounced on the incoming White House counseler’s comparison of Republicans to the Jonestown cult. Your humble reporter-blogger suggested that they had missed the forest for a particularly stupid-looking tree—the more intriguing part of Podesta’s theory of Republican intransigence was that he wanted the executive to find more ways around Congress.

Two days later, Mike Dorning is out with a more detailed story about Podesta’s ambitions.

Less than two weeks after the returns came in, Podesta had compiled 47 pages of proposals for unilateral action on issues from immigration to solar energy. President Barack Obama’s ability to “accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated,” he wrote.

The rest of the article adds little (apart from a hilarious quote from a Clinton aide-turned-Goldman Sachs spokesman), so you’re better off reading those 47 pages. Some of the recommendations—telling the EPA to classify coal ash as a pollutant and “spur the retirement” of coal plants—have already happened. Among the other Podesta recs:

Instruct the secretary of commerce and secretary of defense to determine   whether continued high rates of oil imports threaten to impair national security. If they make the determination that they do, then the President should invoke   the authority granted under the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of   1988 to levy a fee on imported oil, applied in a manner consistent with United   States obligations under international agreements


Use his executive authority to require the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to encourage private health insurers to promote payment reforms.

and a lot more foreign policy stabs and environmental regulations, though the latter of those might hinder Democratic candidates for Senate in Kentucky and West Virginia. Robert Kuttner has another list, proposed around the same time as Podesta’s—the point is that there’s now someone sympathetic to this coming into the administration.