Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Useless Resolutions

It’s that time of year again: New Year’s resolutions. If I still made them, the list would look awfully close to the list from any number of years before:  lose weight, have a more balanced work/personal life, etc. It’s unlikely that I’ll achieve those goals ... so like 60% of Americans, I don’t even bother. A study showed that 88% of people fail at their resolutions. I do love the practice that I heard about once – a couple writes down their resolutions, seals them in an envelope and on New Year’s Eve they each open the other’s to see how they did. Sounds like a fun way to do it. There’s nothing inherently wrong about making resolutions unless you’re a politician and it comes from Washington D.C..

President Obama resolved in his 2014 New Year’s message that it would be a “year of action.” Legislatively that was not the case, with the 2012-2014 Congress one of the "least productive" in history. In terms of his Executive Orders, however, he was true to his word. The problem with a lot of these orders is that they are largely symbolic. There’s no ability to effect the impact that is intended without a partnership and consensus with Congress, the body that writes and funds the budget.

The Obama Administration declared that Home Healthcare workers should receive “Minimum Wage”and overtime benefits. The Department of Labor issued the rules. There was much confusion on how this would work given that so many home healthcare situations do not lend themselves to the structure of traditional employment.  A few days before Christmas a judge threw out the rules. Nice symbolism, but no impact.

Two other Executive Orders in 2014 relate to wages for federal contractors. They are not being challenged in the courts, but the next President can withdraw the order easily. I’ve previously written about my disdain for the government setting wages in the first place --- but if they’re going to do it, shouldn’t it be set by Congress so that wages aren’t at the whim of the person in the Oval Office?

The President’s Immigration Executive Order has been kerosene on a fire in the blogosphere and for the pundits. The action comes after years of failing to get a bipartisan bill approved by the Senate through the House. One of the more significant issues that the order addresses is the legal status of certain immigrants. Millions will be awarded “temporary” status and no longer be considered in violation of U.S. law. What happens under the next President? Should somebody’s right to live and work in a country be solely at the discretion of one person? That’s not how the U.S. system is supposed to work.

Cuban-American relations are about to thaw after 55 years thanks to the President’s decision to normalize relations.  Congress does not need to approve foreign policy. The embargo, however, does require Congressional action, as does approving an Ambassador and funding a new embassy.  Seems the White House recognizes this. Last week they hired a lobbyist. Yes, the Executive Branch has now engaged a person to lobby Congress on its behalf. 

My 2014 goal (not resolution!) was to lose 100 pounds. I lost 40 and have kept 35 off. Progress can be slow. How many of these unilateral actions will go the way of so many goals and resolutions being made this week? Perhaps it’s time to resolve to have the three branches of government work together despite their political differences to solve the important policy issues that face the country. 

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