Titus defends Obama's use of presidential authority

Former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who is running for the House, on Wednesday defended President Barack Obama for taking executive actions to get around Congress on everything from immigration to welfare policy.

Still Titus, a political scientist, said Obama's expanding use of his presidential authority is part of a dangerous trend in which the three branches of government - the executive, legislative and judicial - are crossing constitutional lines. The Democrat noted the courts have been deciding tax and other policies on the state and national levels, too.

"More and more of those checks and balances have been lost," Titus said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal's editorial board. "I think some of the president's actions have been out of frustration because you can't get anything out of the Congress."

Asked whether Obama is setting a dangerous precedent by making more frequent end runs around Congress, Titus said unilateral action by the president is disturbing, but she blamed growing partisanship.

"Well, I think it is dangerous, but I don't think that you can just pin it all on what this president has done," Titus said. "It's a much bigger systematic problem than what this president's done."

Two years ago, Titus barely lost re-election in a swing district to U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., when Republicans were on the rise and Obama was unpopular because of the dismal economy. This year, Titus is running to replace U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who is seeking the Senate in a race against U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

After redistricting, Berkley's redrawn 1st Congressional District remains a safe bet for Titus with the Democratic Party holding a two-to-one voter registration edge over Republicans. That puts Titus' GOP opponent, little-known naval officer Chris Edwards, at a great disadvantage and all but assures her of victory on Nov. 6.

Titus said she is taking nothing for granted, however. She has opened an office in a heavily Hispanic area of the district to reach out to Latino voters. Her diverse urban district also includes Chinatown in the southwest valley.

Titus said she supported Obama's executive decision last month to order his administration not to deport millions of people who were brought to this country illegally by their relatives when they were young. Instead, he ordered a new program to offer young adult illegal immigrants who grew up here two-year work permits.

Obama said he took the action because Congress wouldn't pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for young undocumented immigrants raised in the United States. To qualify for citizenship under the act, the youthful applicants would have to attend college or join the U.S. military.

Titus voted for the DREAM Act when she was in the House and said she would vote for it again.

"They are as American as anybody," Titus said of the young immigrants, adding more needs to be done with an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. "I think you have to have broad immigration reform. You can't just keep putting your head in the sand and act like this program doesn't exist."

As Obama runs for re-election, he has been taking more executive actions that appeal to voting blocs he needs - such as Hispanics and the young - or to accomplish parts of his agenda that Congress rejects.

The Obama administration has dubbed it a "We Can't Wait" strategy to blow by congressional opposition.

Obama recently has announced initiatives that could help 1.6 million college students repay their federal loans, 1 million homeowners meet their mortgage payments and 8,000 veterans find jobs.

The Obama administration earlier this month announced it would give states more latitude in running federal welfare-to-work programs. Republicans complained, calling it a power grab and saying the move undercuts the 1996 overhaul of welfare policy that required aide recipients to work for the money.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed Obama, accusing him of wanting to "strip" the law.

Titus said the Obama administration may be trying to give states more flexibility just as states are allowed the chance to opt out of education programs such as No Child Left Behind.

"When those welfare reforms were put in place under (President Bill) Clinton, they seemed to work well at the time," Titus said, adding giving states flexibility should please Republicans who believe in states' rights.

Titus said lawmakers at the national and state level do seem to be losing power. She joked that the Nevada Legislature lost or gave away much of its authority during the last session. A state Supreme Court decision decided the budget. And a court-appointed committee determined redistricting, the once-a-decade process of redrawing electoral district lines that can determine the political fate of the state for the next 10 years.

"So now, I don't even know why they go up there," Titus said of Carson City, where lawmakers meet in session every two years and where she served for two decades, including as Senate minority leader.

On the national level, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld Obama's signature health care law, calling it a tax because people who don't buy insurance will be fined. Titus voted for the health care law, an unpopular vote for an unpopular law that may have cost her re-election in 2010. She stands by her vote and embraces the law still.

The high court threw out one part of the law, however: the requirement that states expand Medicaid, the health care system for the poor. GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval is considering whether to opt into the expansion. The federal government will mostly pay for it at first, but later added Medicaid recipients might become a state financial burden.

Titus said she thinks most governors will opt in because leaving people uninsured will cost the states more in indigent health care bills. The state's general fund and property taxes go to pick up the indigent tab.

"I think the states are going to opt in," Titus said, predicting the insurance lobby will turn up the pressure on them. "Our governor is being very cautious. I think it would be foolish not to opt in."

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.