Analyzing the Numbers: Obama’s Executive Order Usage Compared

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As the POTUS gears up to announce a series of executive orders on gun control, many on the right are again decrying the President’s alleged over-use of the EO as an abuse of power.  But he’s actually used this method less than every modern, U.S. president.

It seems all but inevitable at this point that the president will use executive orders to achieve his goal of increased gun control in the form of more stringent and mandatory background checks, and closing certain gun show and flea market loopholes.  Many have claimed that this, and the president’s other executive actions signal a clear abuse of power, and that he is subverting the political process to achieve his goals.  The executive action is -inarguably- a way to sidestep the general political mechanisms  -it’s an extra power afforded to the president, so he/she can forgo  congressional approval.  It was likely not designed as such, but design/intention and function tend to stray as time moves along.  The EO has been a contentious element of the presidency for decades.  Its definition is well within a gray area, as the EO is essentially stated as instructions or orders given to the executive branch by the president.  Due to this potentially, catch-all definition,  several presidents have tested the limits of the EO’s power.

Every President of the United States -except for William Henry Harrison who died on his 32nd day in office in 1841-  has used the executive action in some capacity- some far more than others, and no-one half as much as FDR.  When we look at the full, unbiased, statistics -courtesy of The American Presidency Project- Obama’s current totals of 147 (first term) and 80 (second term) executive actions are primed to pan out as the lowest average for a U.S. president in the modern era.

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One thing that immediately jumps out when examining these stats is FDR’s massive number of 3,721.  The second highest in history is Woodrow Wilson’s distant, but still notable total of 1,803.  So if we are calling the EO an abuse of power based on the amount of times it is/was utilized, no President was more abusive than FDR.

Moving into the more relevant, recent past -namely from JFK onward- we see the numbers steady a bit.

The average amount of executive orders (per four year term) from JFK through President Obama is: 209

As we go back through our last five presidents that preceded Obama the averages per term are as follows:

George W. Bush: 145

William J. Clinton: 182

George H.W. Bush: 166

Ronald Reagan:  190

Jimmy Carter: 320

President Obama used the EO 147 times during his first term, a number lower than all of the presidents listed except for GWB’s second term.  But, Bush’s average was brought down significantly but his low total of 118 in his second term, and it seems likely Obama’s will as well.  The president’s current total sits at 80 for his second term, and with only 10 months left, it is highly probable that his total will end up -at the most- right around Bush’s second term total (118).

If we extrapolate from there and assign a 120 to Obama’s second term (which will almost definitely be higher than his final number) his average per term will be: 133.

133 is the lowest average for a two-term president since Grover Cleveland’s two terms in 1884 and 1893 (126).

Now, while these stats do show that President Obama has used the EO less than all other modern US Presidents, these numbers do not claim to examine the content of each EO instituted by each president.  The type of legislation passed by each EO was not investigated – only the overall numbers.  But, as stated earlier, the EO is a device that has been utilized by nearly every modern president to circumvent the typical channels, so its use to further agendas is nothing new.

by Jesse Mechanic

 Jesse Mechanic is the Editor-in-chief of The Overgrown.

Twitter-logo-6-12 @jmechanic



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