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How the Next President Could Undo Obama’s Reforms

How the Next President Could Undo Obama’s Reforms

One way President Obama has gotten around the obstructionism of the Republican-led Congress is by issuing executive orders to advance his agenda. These orders, which have the force of law, have led to clear improvements in many areas, notably labor standards. But as the Obama era draws to a close, it is also clear that reforms achieved through executive orders can simply be reversed by a future president.

For example, Mr. Obama’s executive orders to improve pay and working conditions for employees of federal contractors could be in harm’s way if the Republican Party captures the White House, because Republicans have consistently opposed pro-worker reforms. The orders require contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 an hour and to grant paid sick leave. They also make it harder for contractors who violate labor laws to win and keep federal contracts.

In the process, those executive orders also serve political purposes. Mr. Obama has called for similar improvements for all workers, but that would require legislation. By helping the slice of the work force he does control, Mr. Obama reminds the public of Republican inaction and sets a powerful example for all employers to live up to.

The Obama administration has also issued several pro-worker regulations, including rules to expand the right to overtime pay to millions of people, safeguard retirement savings and protect union-organizing efforts.

Of those, the overtime rule probably faces the biggest threat if Republicans control Congress and the White House next year. By law, Congress can use expedited procedures to repeal executive-branch regulation, if it acts within 60 “session” days of a rule being finalized. (A session day is a day when Congress is actually in session.) The process is seldom used because the president could simply veto the repeal, which could be overturned only by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. The threat arises when rules are finalized in the waning months of an administration. If the 60-day window is still open when the next administration takes over, and the next Congress and the next president do not like a rule passed late in the previous term, they can quickly repeal it.

The overtime rule was finalized this month, so there is a possibility that the 60 day window will still be open next year. That’s even more reason for working people to vote their wallets in November.

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