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TheStreet Open House

How Obama Is Wielding Executive Power In 2nd Term

In short, sticker shock.

It's clear from the varied inventory of previously bottled-up directives that Obama cares about more than "Obamacare."

"I'm hearing we're going to see a lot of things moving now," Hilda Solis told employees in her last day as labor secretary. At the Labor Department, this could include regulations requiring that the nation's 1.8 million in-home care workers receive minimum-wage and overtime pay.

Tougher limits on soot from smokestacks, diesel trucks and other sources were announced just over a month after the Nov. 6 election. These were foreseen: The administration had tried to stall until the campaign ended but released the proposed rules in June when a judge ordered more haste.

Regulations give teeth and specificity to laws are essential to their functioning even as they create bureaucratic bloat. Congress-skirting executive orders and similar presidential directives are less numerous and generally have less reach than laws. But every president uses them and often tests how far they can go, especially in times of war and other crises.

President Harry Truman signed an executive order in 1952 directing the Commerce Department to take over the steel industry to ensure U.S. troops fighting in Korea were kept supplied with weapons and ammunition. The Supreme Court struck it down.

Other significant actions have stood.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order in February 1942 to relocate more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to internment camps after Japan's attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base. Decades later, Congress passed legislation apologizing and providing $20,000 to each person who was interned.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush approved a series of executive orders that created an office of homeland security, froze the assets in U.S. banks linked to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, and authorized the military services to call reserve forces to active duty for as long as two years.

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