The pen is mightier than the sword, or according to the president, mightier than Congress.
Last week, President Obama laid out a specific goal for 2014 during the annual State of the Union address to the country: to aggressively use executive actions to implement his agenda if Congress doesn’t do what he wants.
In some ways, I know how he feels. To borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain,” Mr. President.
The gridlock we see in Washington is frustrating and disappointing to us all. There are real and unavoidable issues we must face as a nation. It is time for this dysfunctional, blame-game era in Washington, D.C., to be replaced with leadership.
Where I disagree with the president is in the solution he gave in his speech.
First, let’s talk about a few issues he discussed.
The president cited technology and global competition as the primary culprits for the loss of good, middle-class jobs; and that low wages and a lack of upward mobility are huge challenges for those Americans that need it most.
How that rhetoric matches the rhetoric his administration uses in the lawsuit he pursued in Louisiana to stop the state’s voucher program is beyond me.
This is the same program that assists low-income parents with children stuck in failing schools and gives them a clear, direct option they control to step toward upward mobility. In fact, 86 percent of Louisiana’s scholarship students come from public schools rated as a “D” or “F” by the state’s accountability program, and 93 percent qualified for the federal free and reduced lunch program, a poverty indicator.
Also, the program is growing in popularity with parents seeking upward mobility.
A recent Legislative Auditor’s report shows the program’s student participation grew by 269 percent since the expansion in 2012, with more than 6,700 students in 126 schools located in 34 parishes taking part.
All the while, the state saved Louisiana taxpayers nearly $16 million last year thanks to this program.
This program is completely optional, cost-effective for taxpayers, and empowering for low-income parents who are desperate for upward mobility.
It is the antithesis of traditional, Washington-designed government programs that are mandated, cost the taxpayers too much money, and tell low-income parents where they have to educate their kids. No wonder the president’s lawyers are trying to stop it.
The president also wants to promote upward mobility by mandating minimum wage increases by executive order.
The reality is that government mandates on wages hit low-income workers the hardest because small-business owners that are fighting to keep their doors open during the national recession will either scale back on low-wage job openings or raise prices to pay for this mandate.
Studies show that while 25 percent of the poorest workers may improve their income under this scenario, 75 percent would lose financially due to higher prices for goods and services.
The best way to raise wages is by creating healthy markets. Louisiana is seeing that now, due to a robust competitive environment for skilled and trained workers thanks to a manufacturing renaissance taking place. This will lead to real options for upward mobility available to anyone looking to work hard and learn a marketable skill.
America doesn’t mandate upward mobility because, quite frankly, it doesn’t work.
Instead, America is at its best when we create an environment where people have the ability to better themselves should they choose to do so. The American people crave that type of freedom and we thrive when it is most apparent.
Second, let’s talk about the president’s aggressive use of executive action to implement his agenda.
While I am no historian or Constitutional expert, I do recall quite clearly that we declared our independence from England years ago to get away from a government led by a king who pretty much did what he pleased.
The Founding Fathers of our nation were so inspired by this defining moment they made sure to put appropriate checks and balances into our government. It was a good call on their part.
This inherent balance engrained into government execution empowers the people of this country to set our own aspirational direction. The responsibility to govern is given to more than one elected person. We define our country, we set our expectations, and we elect our leaders as a people.
We do this every day through our actions and our words. We do it at the water cooler of old and at the Internet “water cooler” of new.
We do it through the election process and through making our voice heard as our leaders debate the important policies of our time. We set the tone and we expect our leaders to listen first, and then to lead.
Leading is not taking your ball and going home when the game gets tough. That doesn’t work on the playground and it doesn’t work in Washington, D.C.
I think Joe Kennedy, and then Billy Ocean, said it best, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” It is time for our leaders to get tough, listen to the people, and lead.