Carroll County Times Opinion

Facts don't match rhetoric

Republicans state that President Barack Obama has abused his presidential powers by issuing too many executive orders and signing statements that have allowed him to ignore the will of Congress.

A presidential executive order serves the purpose of giving federal government agencies guidance in the operations of their departments or agencies. They have the full force of law but, as laws passed by Congress, are reviewable by the courts.


A signing statement is a written presidential objection to a bill, or parts of a bill, passed by Congress and is documented at the time of the bill's signing by the president. The American Bar Association believes, as I do, that signing statements "undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers."

House Speaker John Boehner wants to bring a lawsuit against Obama for his excessive use of executive orders and signing statements. With all of this concern from Republicans, clearly the president must be breaking records in his use of these presidential prerogatives. So let's look at the numbers, shall we?


The American Presidency Project and Bookings Institute recently put together a report on the frequency of executive orders during the history of U.S. presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama (through June 17, 2014). They looked at the number of presidential executive orders per president and divided that by the number of days in office. This yielded a daily rate of executive orders per president.

Of the last five presidents, Ronald Reagan had the most executive orders, followed by presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Obama had the fewest number of executive orders. In fact, one would have to go back 21 presidents to Grover Cleveland, who completed his second term of office in 1897, to find a president who issued fewer executive orders than Obama.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the most executive orders, at a rate of almost one per day, during his 12 years in office from 1933 to 1945. Of the eight presidents with one or more executive orders per three days in office, five were Republicans and three were Democrats.

According to Dr. Richard Salsman, writing for Forbes, "The U.S. courts have overturned only two orders: Truman's order on steel mills, and President Clinton's 1995 order to preclude the federal government from contracting with firms that had strike-breakers on their payroll."

As for signing statements, according to the Congressional Research Service, Reagan issued 250 signing statements over eight years, George H.W. Bush issued 228 in just four years, Clinton issued 381 in eight years and George W. Bush issued 159 in eight years.

In his five and one-half years in office, Obama has issued a total of 27 signing statements since taking office in January 2009, significantly fewer than any recent president. At his current rate of less than five signing statements per year, he may reach 40 signing statements by the end of his second term, or just 25 percent of the number of signing statements by his predecessor, and only 16 percent of Reagan.

Salsman writes that "Mr. Obama is a mere piker when it comes to issuing decrees; he's been easily out-distanced by the likes of those Republicans – e.g., Eisenhower and Reagan – who today's conservatives claim to be paragons of constitutionally-limited government."

As stated by Charles Pierce writing for Esquire's The Politics Blog, "Let us have a debate, then" and compare what Republicans say the president has done with his record and compare that record with previous presidents, especially Republican presidents.


Obama has issued fewer executive orders and signing statements compared to other presidents in the last century. Sometimes the facts don't match the political rhetoric, especially when the rhetoric is coming from Republicans talking about President Obama.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. E-mail him at