Can President Obama force through a new international climate change treaty without a vote in the Senate, as the Constitution requires? The administration thinks it can. But while conservatives will correctly cry foul about this deceit, liberals should be just as angry about the way the terms of this lawless proposed pact hurts poor Third World nations.
As the New York Times reports, the administration is so determined to forge a new deal with other countries to limit carbon emissions that it is prepared to ignore the Senate, even though the Constitution clearly states that any treaty must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate. Their solution is to sign what they are calling a “politically binding” rather than “legally binding” pact whose purpose will be to strong-arm countries into curbing economic development to conform with the belief that this is harming the planet. Nations will be required to enact climate change laws while pledging to observe “voluntary” emissions cuts while also funneling money to compensate poor nations whose attempts to create economic development will be halted by the climate change craze.
Both the administration and some of its European partners in this scheme believe they can get away with this sleight of hand by concocting a document that combines a restatement of existing U.S. treaty commitments dating from 1992 with new, supposedly voluntary pledges. This will, they think, allow them to evade U.S. law and commit the U.S. to an international accord without the benefit of congressional approval.
As one advocate of the plan told the Times, this is a tactic involving “legal and political magic.” A more honest way of evaluating it would be to say that it is a barefaced attempt to circumvent the Constitution and allow the president to govern by fiat rather than benefit of law.
While Republicans have been rightly grousing about the way the president used his power to act via executive orders on domestic issues, when it comes to climate change he had the authority to do so because of court rulings that allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions without congressional oversight. But this is something very different and far more dangerous. By seeking to negotiate and sign a treaty with foreign powers without submitting these agreements for Senate approval, President Obama is deliberately flouting the law. The talk about the “voluntary” nature of the provisions of the treaty—a dubious description due to the economic leverage that the great powers would have over small countries under this international emissions regime—is nothing more than a transparent legal evasion.
While initiating a lawsuit to stop this treaty may be tricky because it won’t be clear who will have legal standing to challenge the deal, it is to be hoped that the courts will take a dim view of this sort of one-man rule. While the president may say he has no choice but to act on his own because of congressional opposition, this is exactly the sort of reasoning used by dictators to justify their doing away with democratic norms. Whether you agree with Obama on environmental issues or not, all Americans should be worried about an administration that believes that its belief in the urgency of an issue ought to allow it to trample the law in such a shameless manner.
The threat posed to the Constitution and the rule of law by the president’s tactics ought to be enough to generate bipartisan opposition to his power grab. But that isn’t the only reason to cry foul about this treaty. The treatment of poor Third World nations by this treaty is atrocious and its remedy for the devastating impact the emission cuts will have on these nations is as bad if not worse than the problem it claims to be solving.
On the one hand, some of the poorer nations are complaining that a treaty that is not legally binding will not force richer countries to send them aid to build dams and levees to protect against the coastal flooding that warming activists claim will happen sooner or later. But they also worry about the willingness of the wealthy West to enact international treaties that may ultimately prevent them from using carbon to develop their own economies.
Even worse is the fact that the money funneled to the Third World by Obama’s plan will be simply transferred to the nations rather than being targeted to solve particular problems with safeguards to prevent corruption. Suffice it to say that this more or less guarantees that any money that does get transferred to these poor nations will go straight into the pockets and the Swiss bank accounts of public officials there rather than helping the poor deal with the impact of climate change.
In short, this treaty combines all the evils of Obama’s international outlook in one neat package. It both violates American law and seeks to subordinate the interests and the economy of the United States while at the same time pursuing a liberal aid agenda that will worsen the problems of the Third World rather than improving them.
While some of the rhetoric from the right about Obama’s attempt to govern by executive orders may seem over the top at times, this is one instance in which the talk of monarchical instincts is not overblown. Treaties must be ratified by the Senate, not forced down the throat of the nation via “legal magic.” Anyone who sees Senator Mitch McConnell’s threats to obstruct this one-man presidency should he become majority leader next year as evidence of extremism need only consider Obama’s methods on this issue to realize how high the stakes involved in this issue may be. Those liberals who excuse this lawbreaking on grounds of necessity should ask themselves whether they could stomach a conservative president playing the same game.