President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday showed he is clearly frustrated with a recalcitrant, dysfunctional Congress. Welcome to the club.
"For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate -- one that dates back to our very founding," Obama said. "But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy — when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States — then we are not doing right by the American people."
But Obama's solution to the congressional gridlock isn't palatable, either.
"America does not stand still, and neither do I," the president proclaimed to a joint session of Congress. "So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do."
Obama said he would act on his own, without congressional approval, to push his agenda for the nation.
There are some things Obama's administration can accomplish on its own, but we need all three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — to be healthy.
We are a nation of laws, not executive orders.
Executive orders, like marriages performed by a ship's captain, are good only for the duration of the voyage. Obama's directives — and he has issued fewer than his recent predecessors — expire when he leaves office.
For long-lasting change, Congress must enact laws.
Obama has the support of public opinion on some issues, including proposals to increase the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits, reduce income inequality and make college more affordable, according to the Pew Research Center. Getting the support of Congress on these issues, though, isn't easy.
Obama is right to be frustrated with Congress, but he should not sidestep the legislative branch to implement his agenda.
Congress has shown signs of finally beginning to work together. There's now a budget -- better late than never -- for the current fiscal year, and an agreement has been reached on a new farm bill. The normal procedures in Congress are starting to be followed again, rather than having the House and Senate leadership circumvent the committees.
Nurture that hope of an end to gridlock, rather than ignoring Congress and increasing polarity in the nation's capital in the process.