Legislative Update: April/May 2013

Legislative Update: April/May 2013

By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Analyst

Throughout our nation's history, presidents have used executive orders – one of their constitutionally "implied" powers – to advance their own agendas while circumventing the normal legislative process. Recently, President Obama issued two executive orders that did just that, easing the way for immigrants to earn Social Security benefits based in part on work done illegally. The two orders marked the largest immigration policy shift in more than a decade – a shift that was implemented unilaterally, bypassing elected lawmakers in Congress.

In June of 2012, President Obama issued an executive order allowing young illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria to apply for "deferred action," a policy that grants them the right to a work permit and the ability to remain in the country without risk of deportation. Of concern to The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) is the fact that those receiving work permits are granted access to Social Security numbers, and the program essentially provides a path to benefits that could be based on a history of illegal work. It was rushed into implementation on August 15th, and experts estimate that more than 1.5 million immigrants will qualify by the end of the program’s first year.

In January of 2013, President Obama issued another executive order that would ease the path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens. The new program went into effect on March 4th, and it aids those who originally entered the country with a student or visitor visa. The program does not immediately bestow those who qualify with legal status, but it goes even farther than the "deferred action" order by making it faster and less risky for applicants to eventually receive permanent residence. As many as one million illegal immigrants will qualify, and TSCL is concerned that it could potentially add billions of dollars in new liabilities to Social Security and Medicare that could be based on illegal earnings.

These executive orders are not President Obama's only ones, and he is not the first president to use them. Executive orders date back to the 1700s, when George Washington issued eight of them. More recently, President Clinton issued 364 in his two terms, and President George W. Bush – whose administration acted unilaterally to sign the Social Security Totalization Agreement with Mexico in 2004 – issued 291. Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has issued 148 executive orders, placing him close to the historical average.

Executive orders issued by the President allow him to manage operations within the federal government, and like laws that go through the typical legislative process, executive orders hold the full force of law. Presidential use of the "implied" powers has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are still wary that such actions are "contrary to the spirit of the Constitution," as Sen. Charles Grassley (IA) put it. The two executive orders mentioned above are of particular concern to The Senior Citizens League, since they will financially strain the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds at a time when the programs are already enduring fiscal hardships.

How do you feel about presidential use of the “implied” powers? To let us know, contact us today.