U.S. Markets open in 4 hrs 14 mins

Obama May Push Executive Power Limits In 2nd Term

A big unknown for President Obama's second term is whether he will find a way to work with Congress or continue to push the limits of executive power.

The clearest signal may come before the year-end fiscal cliff: Obama said Friday he was "open to compromise," but insisted on tax hikes on the rich. That may hurt chances for cooperation.

Obama's last two years butting heads with the GOP House led him to increasingly focus on executive branch actions that cut Congress out of the loop.

Some analysts predict another end-run soon with a recess appointment that would open the door to principal write-downs on government-insured mortgages.

Two moves, in particular, this year have stretched executive power and touched off disputes as to whether Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority.

In June, Obama decided to give illegal immigrants age 16 to 30 a de facto two-year renewable visa. The Department of Homeland Security contended that deferring deportation was merely prosecutorial discretion that all administrations have used. Yet this was the first time such discretion was essentially codified into a program with fees for applicants.

In January, Obama's "recess" appointments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and National Labor Relations Board sparked an outcry from the right because they came while Congress was not officially on break.

A third White House action, going to war against Libya without the consent of Congress, provoked charges from both left and right that Obama had defied the War Powers Resolution.

Obama also has made bypassing Congress central to his economic policy. In October 2011, unable to get another shot of stimulus passed, he launched the "We Can't Wait" initiative to act by executive order where possible.

"We can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job," he said at the time.

Obama made it cheaper and easier for homeowners to refinance mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. This included waiving fees and allowing refinancing even when loan balances top home values by over 25%.

Next, Obama acted to reduce federal student loan costs by cap ping required payments at 15% of discretionary income (10% in certain public-sector fields) and letting borrowers consolidate and refinance loans at a lower rate.

Obama also touted his appointment of Richard Cordray to run the CFPB, created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, as part of "We Can't Wait.

Obama made the Cordray and three NLRB appointments, citing his power to do so when the Senate was in recess. At the time, the Senate was holding "pro forma" sessions at which no real business was conducted.

Democrats used the same tactic to block recess appointments by President George W. Bush. Yet the Constitution doesn't define "recess", so the White House felt it could ignore existing practice.

Obama's next recess controversy may come soon. Bank of America analyst Ralph Axel recently wrote that he expects Obama to fire Ed DeMarco as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency that oversees Fannie and Freddie. DeMarco has blocked the administration's plan to cut principal for underwater homeowners.

Another wild card is whether Obama will take President Clinton's debt-ceiling advice. Many have noted the oddity of Congress passing budgets that bust the debt limit. Clinton's advice last year: Ignore the ceiling "and force the courts to stop me."