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Executive Orders and Unemployment Insurance Benefits

June 25, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

With the Senate’s failure yesterday to extend unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who have lost their job due to the financial crisis and are facing an extremely dire jobs situation, people are asking if President Obama can step in and use his executive power to do something. The short answer is no. Here’s why.

Article II, Section I of the Constitution grants the President “executive power,” meaning, theoretically, that Presidents can use their authority to do just about anything they want. However, the problem with the idea of Obama granting an executive order extending unemployment benefits comes from language a little later in the Constitution, in Section III of Article II. That sections states that the President shall “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This language is designed to protect our democratic form of government form being overtaken by a rogue President who wants to become dictator. Good idea, right?

As rightly noted by OpenCongress user JoshR, since the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer Supreme Court finding in the 1950’s, executive orders have been considered valid when they clarify or further the laws made by Congress, but invalid when they go beyond the scope of the law. In this case, an executive order from President Obama to extend unemployment benefits would pretty clearly be in violation of the laws as created by Congress. In April, Congress voted favorably on an extension that was intentionally designed to expire on June 2. Yesterday, and several times previously this month, they voted clearly against extending the benefits further. With these actions from Congress, it’s hard to see how, constitutionally, Obama could step in here and defend an executive extension of UI benefits as within the scope of the law.

In sum, President Obama does not have legal authority to extend unemployment benefits now that the extensions have been definitively rejected by Congress, and, for constitutional reasons, that’s probably a good thing. His powers on this issue now extend pretty much to the bully pulpit, which he can use to bring more attention to the unemployment crisis and push Congress to take action in this area. That in itself can be very powerful.

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Displaying 1-30 of 181 total comments.

  • jgpt777 06/25/2010 9:59am


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    overthrow2010 06/25/2010 10:48am

    Thank you. Keep spreading it.

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    faith2405 06/25/2010 12:39pm

    If this is truley the land of the brave, why don’t all of us who are sickened by the uninformed, ignorant, comments made by the elected officials and the complete inaction of them, boycott all purchases, ALL purchaes, one day, if 12 million of us purchased nothing on one day think of the lost revenue. If you want to get attention, the best way is to effect their bottom line. Lets find out who is lobbing for whom and refuse to buy from any company that supports these politicians!!!!

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    GABE1004 06/25/2010 4:56pm

    I’m with you, keep the faith. Wonder if they (Republicans) are waiting to have time pass b so it will cover people thru the holidays?


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    faith2405 06/26/2010 3:59pm

    No I don’t believe any rep. or dem. that did not vote in favor for HR 4213 cares about the unemployed at all and have no intention of passing this bill please text 202-456-1111 the white house comment line be HEARD!!

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    Please go to and sign my petition.This is the content of it:
    We are more than just a voice and vote.We are The People.Bailing out the rich people, giving individuals millions of dollars in bonuses, sending our jobs overseas so that the middle class is forced to live in poverty, not knowing how we are going to support our children is NOT acceptable.We elected you to be in office to stand and fight for us, the American People.But instead you play your political games at our expense, while you live in luxury.Do you really think the average person is that naive or are you just that arrogant?Just remember we voted you in office and we can vote you out.
    I hear everyone wants to rally on July 2nd.I lost my car and have NO money to go anywhere.So this is my feeble attempt to voice my opinion.Please sign my petition,even if you feel it will not help.

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    comments11660 06/26/2010 6:17am

    I think this suggestion deserves action. I would suggest Friday, July 2nd, since that is the day most people will shop for the 4th of July but I fear that is too far away for most unemployed who need income before then so in order to give us a little time to get the word out how about Wed., June 30, 2010, if we can get the word out to every unemployed person we might actually be able to make enough of an impact to get congress’s attention. I invite everyone who reads this post to join me on Wed., June 30th to join our shopping boycott to not purchase any gas or groceries or any other goods such as medicines anything you would buy in the grocery store, gas station, mall or online. I welcome the chance to be heard by both Democrats and Republicans as this is a non partisan issue.

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    sldhouston 06/26/2010 6:29am

    Comments11660… it would take more than one day to get their attention. That’s the sad thing… If it was a week, that’s a different story. But from an economic standpoint, one day isn’t enough to make a serious blow to them. and unfortunately we do not have enough people to do this… even w/those of us who lost benefits June 2nd, we are over a million in a society of billions. We need Obama to bully the Senate. We need them to either design a new bill or get the Repubs to change over 2 votes…

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    comments11660 06/26/2010 6:42am

    One day is all it will take. A few years ago it only took one day of boycotting the purchase of gasoline to get the attention of the oil companies. We only need to get their attention in order to get Congress to stop stalling and to take action. This one day boycott will work. I suggest contacting radio stations and everyone on your email list with the above announcement, I already have. You will be amazed if we will just stop our non action and do something even ever so small they will take notice. This is how the Tea Party movement launched. This WILL work if we just spread the word. Many will say we are lazy and just don’t want to work but their are many many others particularly families of the hard working unemployed who will join in as well. It will get their attention!!!! Please join us!

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    cralford 06/27/2010 4:07am

    I think his point is that July 2nd the legislature takes it summer break. Does anyone know how long their break is?

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    ohcraplookwhosincharge 06/27/2010 7:56am

    I think it’s 10 days !!!! How wonderful for them !!! Although most of them look as close to death as they can be, but they’re the ones in charge !!! I hope Obama enjoyed his cheeseburgers the other day too !!!! The major news networks found it more urgent to report on what he had on it than the plight of the poverty stricken American People……I’m glad we lost the soccer game…..

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    faith2405 06/26/2010 4:05pm

    overthrow2010 is planning a march on washington dc and will post this info on Monday, I say if we can’t attend, boycott that day be heard there are 15 MILLION unemployed also e-mail orrin hatch and tell him the unemployed would love to take a drug test to receive their check, HIM first along with ALL the senate and congress. They must be high LOOK at what they aren’t doing, and what they are!!!

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    ohcraplookwhosincharge 06/27/2010 7:49am

    If we are broke, we won’t be able to buy anyway… your plan works all the way around !!!!!

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    ohcraplookwhosincharge 06/27/2010 7:46am

    You absolutely read my mind……..All of these people, the companies included that are blogging that they won’t hire the unemployed, would really feel our one power left if we all boycotted Sony, for instance, and like you said, refused to buy anything for a day. Especially NO GAS !!!!
    What would be the largest thing we could boycott for them to feel the ripple in DC ???

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    arnolha 06/28/2010 7:49am

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! I am so sick of all you fat cat republicas getting away with letting the people of this country starve, and not able to pay there bills. Well guess what when I lose my house I am knocking on one of the repulicans door and Saying " guess what here we are, now take care of us" While the US is helping all the other countrys feed there familys and god knows how long this iraq shit is going to go on! lets help the people out here first. We will remember this come November, and you fat cat’s will not be getting voted for. I can promise that! Enjoy your long 4th of july vacation, cause I know millions of us will not! It is time to get your heads out of your ass!

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    lilray 06/25/2010 12:44pm

    Thank you for this link. I believe that we all need to stick together and show this disgusting government that we are the people and that without us they are done.

    We need to set a date and even if we have to carry strangers in our vehicles… we all need to go to Washington and fight for our rights.

    I am about to loose everything. I have been crying for days. I have walked to look for work and nothing. My daughters and I have been eating peanut butter and jelly everyday. Pleaseeeeeee Help us!!!!!

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    faith2405 06/25/2010 1:14pm

    I think a march is a great idea to show these useless pieces of skin that we the people and are not sheep. But for all of us who can not attend, what do think about a boycott? Boycott everything, no purchases on a particular day. Remember the french wine boycott? And how they cried? My husband has been out of work for a year, and we have had no health insurance for months, we listen to your U Tube video and applaude. Keep the faith and continue to enlighten the masses.

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    comments11660 06/26/2010 6:42am

    Just tell us when and where so we know where to meet!

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    Transparent 06/26/2010 3:50am

    15 million of us! I like the video brother, I have 3 children who depend upon me to eat and what this fucking government fails to realize is that a parent will do whatever it takes to provide. What the fuck happened to our constitution? The government should fear the people not the other way around. We go to Washington and block those fuckers inside, we do not spend a dollar on the streets, fucking pack lunches and bring whatever we will need. Imagine if there was a group, a real fucking group of 10 million who would and I mean fucking Would disrupt the Republicans and Fucking dumbocrats, we need independants and we need to take back our fucking country from these abusive selfish fucking old bags of fucking shit.

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    comments11660 06/26/2010 6:44am

    Start emailing everyone you know with the June 30th shopping boycott! Don’t buy gas, groceries,clothes, fourth of July picnic stuff! Let’s send our message to Congress NOW!!!!

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    bleumonday 06/26/2010 3:56pm

    awesome videos. I have been trying to comment there on youtube to tell you my story as you asked and keep having issues..Ugh.. But I will keep watching and won’t stop the fight
    Shelby in CA

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    Chris51 06/25/2010 2:01pm

    Congress that rushed through a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in October 2008 in a matter of days, and authorized a further financial windfall to the banks and speculators five months later, cannot bring itself to support even the most meager subsistence for the unemployed workers who are the victims, not the perpetrators, of the economic crisis.
    The Wall Street Journal reported last week that American corporations have increased their cash reserves to $1.84 trillion, the highest figure in history. In other words, big business and the banks, after an unprecedented bailout by the public treasury, are hoarding the funds that could put millions back to work. The cash reserves of major corporations have jumped 26 percent in one year, the largest percentage increase in nearly 60 years. The cash reserves of working people, and particularly the unemployed, have not been so fortunate.

    When will the ordinary citizen “the real tax payers” get prioritized?

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    Chris51 07/08/2010 7:09pm

    Senator’s excuse for not passing is a false statement.
    Read all about it:
    The funding argument is even harder to swallow. I’d be more sympathetic with these new converts to fiscal responsibility if they were as enthusiastic about paying for extending $32 billion worth of special interest tax breaks as they are about funding the unemployment extension. If I understand correctly, these lawmakers insist that Congress fund every dime of added jobless aid, which nearly all analysts agree will help boost the economy. But they feel no need to pay for continuing these special interest tax breaks, which will not.
    Full Story:

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    Chris51 07/08/2010 7:10pm

    GOP are determined to bloc everything the President is trying to do for the USA right now. He has a vested interest, and seems to take pride in doing the best job he can while in office.
    We are in trouble as long as Republican politicians continue favoring their special interest.
    How can any CEO or Owner of business get anything done if half of his managers or executives stand in his way just to be defiant.

    President Obama speech on CSPAN today, while in Kansas City, MO to support a future candidate. Was right on.
    If you are an unemployed American, and are thinking no one understands the difficulties of being jobless. Obama speech articulated the financial and emotional struggles well. Hat’s off to the President for saying what needed to be said.

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    WeThePeopleFightBack2010 06/26/2010 10:14am

    He has good ideas. We should rally in front of the White House. However, I lost my car and have no money to go anywhere. So I started a petition titled We The People Fight Back. Please go to and sign my petition and start your own. If enough people sign and submit their own petitions it might help.

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    sldhouston 06/26/2010 10:59am

    This petition has been going around for a few days now…

    But will it really do us any good??

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    ohcraplookwhosincharge 06/27/2010 7:39am

    This guy is great…….God Bless his Baby and may God Bless us all….

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    NewOakie 06/27/2010 1:57pm

    I watched this understandably angry young man’s youtube posting and commiserated.

    Then he showed his 9 month old and my heart sank.

    I’ve been unemployed since 4/09. Hundreds of resumes sent, not one response. I am not a slacker. Now 57 (another major detriment to employment), I have worked since age 12 and have never been unemployed for more than a few months.

    The silver lining in my life is not having children to feed.

    I’ve written every Senator several times. The last asking for an emergency standalone to be legislated.

    The young man is right. March on Washington. Show our strength and solidarity. I am there.

    President Obama, are you listening? Do what needs to be done to get these scumbag, obstructionist Senators to pass legislation giving us back our lifeline in the worse economy since the Thirties.

    Get mad. March on Washington!

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    NewOakie 06/27/2010 6:22pm


    Only to be replaced with more idiots and narcissistic goofballs.

    Jefferson said it best (paraphrasing), “Every generation should have a revolution.”

    We’re overdue.

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    akeough35 06/28/2010 1:59pm

    thanks for the link!! it was awesome! he posted his new website today and hope everyone will check it out

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