The phrase of the week at the White House has been "executive action." That's what the administration has termed the announcements the President has made about changes to government mortgage and student loan programs.
The thing is, no one is quite sure what an executive action is. What is clear is that these Presidential moves have not been "executive orders." According to the C-Span Glossary an executive order is "a presidential directive with the force of law” that doesn’t need congressional approval. And the White House clarifies that executive orders are "binding because as Chief Executive the President has the power to command the executive branch."
But the trusty C-Span Glossary has no entry for "executive action" and tonight the White House clarified why, it's because it's kind of a catch all term. "It just means something the executive branch does. The use of any of a number of tools in the executive branch’s toolbox," said one administration official.
Executive actions can include "regulation, enforcement, statements of policy...and numerous other things," the official continued.
So, basically, it's anything the President does that doesn't modify a law. Multiple officials have said this is a continuation of changes President Obama has called for in various departments throughout his presidency.
It's just that this week, the packaging is a little prettier.