Tall, Grande, or Venti: Presidential Powers in the United States and Latin America

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TABLE 3: U.S. Executive Orders with Clear Legislative Content, Presidents Bush and Obama

Obama, 2009-11

  • Blocking Property and Prohibiting Certain Transactions Related to Libya (13566)

  • Extending Provisions of the International Organizations Immunities Act to the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the International Civilian Office in Kosovo


  • Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to North Korea (13570)

  • Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to Human Rights Abuses in Syria (13572)

  • Blocking Property of Senior Officials of the Government (13573)

  • Blocking Property of Transnational Criminal Organizations (13581)

  • Blocking Property of the Government of Syria and Prohibiting Certain

  • Transactions With Respect To Syria (13582)

  • Reducing Prescription Drug Shortages (13588)

  • Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in Somalia (13536)

  • Optimizing the Security of Biological Select Agents and Toxins in the United States (13546)

  • Presidential Records (Revokes 13233) (13489)

  • Ensuring Lawful Interrogation (13491)

  • Classified National Security Information (13526)

George W. Bush 2001-2002

  • Agency Responsibilities With Respect to Faith-Based & Community Initiatives (13198)

  • Revocation of Executive Order on Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers Under Certain Contracts (13204)

  • Termination of Emergency Authority for Certain Export Controls (13206)

  • Further Amendment to Executive Order 10000, Regulations Governing Additional Compensation & Credit Granted Certain Employees of the Federal Gov’t Serving Outside the United States (13207)

  • Additional Measures With Respect To Prohibiting the Importation of Rough Diamonds From Sierra Leone (13213)

  • Amendment to Executive Order 13125, Increasing Participation of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders in Federal Programs (13216)

  • Blocking Property of Persons Who Threaten International Stabilization Efforts in the Western Balkans (13219)

  • Waiver Under the Trade Act of 1974 With Respect to the Rep. of Belarus (13220)

  • Continuation of Export Control Regulations (13222)

  • Blocking Property & Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten to Commit, or Support Terrorism (13224)

  • Establishing the Office of Homeland Security & the Homeland Security Council (13228)

  • Waiver of Dual Compensation Provisions of the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement Act of 1964 (13236)

  • Adjustments of Certain Rates of Pay (13249)

  • Exclusions From the Federal Labor-Management Relations Program (13252)

  • Establishing the USA Freedom Corps (13254)

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/

1 We use the term “reinforced powers” to distinguish our concept from literature that discusses informal presidential powers or informal institutions. Our concept is meant to incorporate ideas from these studies, but also includes associated powers—indirect constitutional mechanisms that reinforce direct formal legislating or agenda-setting powers.

2 Payne et al. (2007) code for decree powers, budget provisions, veto and partial veto processes, and the power to convoke plebiscites. Shugart and Carey (1992) also measure control over the cabinet. Tsebelis and Alemán code for veto powers and show their own rankings plus those based on three other studies. In their model, the U.S. president garners a score of 2 on a scale where the median country (Venezuela) is coded with a 7.

3 Our separation of scope and force is similar to previous distinctions in the literature between proactive and reactive powers, but the formal and reinforced aspects suggest an aggregate relationship between the two that increases presidential power overall, rather than positing a trade-off.

4 This limit itself could be the topic of investigation. Why don't the legislatures vote more resources for themselves?

5 See Fisher (1985) for examples.

6 Cooper argues that the logic is flawed, since by making rules, the executive has also failed to follow the same constitutional provisions.

7 Additional types of orders typically associated with administrative rather than legislative matters include presidential determinations, memoranda, and notices.

8 West and Cooper (1989) also note that the OMB lacks the legal authority to force compliance by agencies with these procedures, and there have been examples where the agencies have not followed OMB requests. The authors, however, argue that the president’s influence over the agency heads is generally sufficient to ensure compliance.

9 See Nelson (1989).

10 These figures underestimate the Latin American unilateral actions, because they do not account for additional reinforced powers available to Latin American presidents, which have not yet been systematically collected. The main point, however, is still clear; while many Latin American presidents use unilateral authority more often, the U.S. presidents also issue a large number of directives.

11 Payne, et al. (2007) ascribe the strongest partial veto powers to Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador. Tsebelis and Alemán (2005) indicate that presidents in others countries also have strong partial veto powers. For example, they explain that the Brazilian president can promulgate non-objectionable parts of a bill. The partial veto can only be overridden by a majority of the house and senate, who vote jointly.

12 The partial veto can have a positive side. Samuels (2002) credits the elimination of much pork-barrel spending in Brazil to the partial veto, even though legislators are each empowered to submit amendments valuing about $1.5 million (see Ames 2002). Our point here, however, is that the partial veto prevents legislative action.

13 On “amendatory observations” see Alemán and Tsebelis (2005).

14 We thank an anonymous reviewer for emphasizing how this relationship has recently evolved.

15 Nino also highlights the limited period of democratic rule in Argentina.

16 See Larkins (1998) for a review of Menem’s court packing.

17 A keen example regards the “gag rule.” In Rust v. Sullivan (1991) the Court upheld the Health and Human Services’ questionable interpretation of the statute to prevent clinics that receive federal funds from counseling with reference to abortion. The Congress wrote new legislation to overturn the rule, but President Bush vetoed the bill (Clayton 1994).

18 Berry argues that presidents use signing statements to counteract legislative vetoes (and there is thus a positive correlation between legislative vetoes and the issuance of signing statements).

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