Yes, He Can: Twenty Ways Obama Can Use Executive Power to Push a Progressive Agenda
Assemble a Commission on Climate Change
In his first press conference since winning a second term, President Obama said, “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.” He should start by assembling a blue-ribbon Climate Change National Security Commission to take stock of the most pressing dangers posed by climate change. The commission would be composed of experts like Dr. James Hansen and Bill McKibben, and its members would outline a schedule for analyzing and making recommendations on how best to tackle this enormous and wide-reaching national security issue.
In his inaugural speech, the president vowed to engage with other countries so as to "lift suspicion and fear." He should reach out to forge a more sane and sensible relationship with Cuba.
Nation readers provided good ideas—and a bit of wariness—when asked how Obamas should use his presidential authority.
Direct the EPA to Regulate All Greenhouse Gases
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate all greenhouse gases, yet it has not done so. It is long past time for Obama to order the EPA to exert this authority—not just when it comes to carbon dioxide, but methane gas and black carbon as well. Specifically, the president should direct the EPA to apply the approach advocated by NASA scientist James Hansen and the Center for Biological Diversity, which would set a national pollution cap of no more than 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If that standard sounds overly ambitious, the president should bear in mind that regulations issued under the Clean Air Act are supposed to be “technology forcing”—inducing the private sector to develop and deploy superior technologies that will safeguard the health of the public and the planet.
Reject the Keystone Pipeline and ‘All of the Above’
With climate change already battering the nation’s great cities and ravaging our Farm Belt, it is unconscionable for federal policy to make things worse by encouraging major expansions in coal, oil and natural gas consumption. The president should reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada and replace his “All of the Above” energy strategy with a “Green Growth” one that rapidly phases out fossil fuels while scaling up energy efficiency and wind, solar and other renewable sources.
Foreign Policy And National Security
Take Nuclear Weapons Off ‘Hair-Trigger’ Status
To this day, the United States and Russia have several hundred missiles ready to launch at a moment’s notice. In 2000, George W. Bush called this “another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation,” and eight years later, Barack Obama vowed to undo it. Yet nothing has changed since then. As Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, points out, handing down an order to do so would not be unprecedented. “George H.W. Bush ended the practice of having our nuclear-armed bombers on strip alert as part of his unilateral 1991 nuclear initiatives,” he says. “He also took hundreds of missiles off alert.” Obama should make good on his promise and lay whatever diplomatic groundwork is necessary to issue this long-overdue executive order, which could make our planet a lot less dangerous.
Take Cuba Off the ‘State Sponsors of Terror’ List
In another relic of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan placed Cuba on the State Department’s list of terror-supporting countries to demonize its support for revolution in Central America. “This was, and continues to be, a grave injustice,” says Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project. “Rather than a terrorist advocate, Cuba has been, historically, a victim of terrorism, much of it shamefully emanating from US territory. The written justifications for keeping Cuba on the list over the last several years actually read like arguments to take Cuba off the list.” Kornbluh cites Cuba’s efforts to mediate a cease-fire and peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels as proof that Cuba, in fact, is “playing a fundamental and constructive role in seeking to end conflicts that breed terrorism in the region.”
Audit the Pentagon
Almost every federal agency routinely passes the yearly financial audit required by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. The major exception is the Pentagon, which is “unauditable,” according to the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO). The Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when the audit would be done, even as Congress doubled Pentagon spending. It’s time to get serious, but no new laws are needed. “President Obama should request significant reductions in the Pentagon budget until the Pentagon can pass the audit,” said Rafael DeGennaro, a former taxpayer group leader who is starting the nonprofit Audit the Pentagon.