August 20, 2008

When President Bush receives a bill he doesn't like, instead of issuing a veto and challenging Congress to override him as School House Rock would have you believe, he issues a private "signing statement" setting forth how he plans on interpreting the new law. The House Armed Services Committee has just released a report on the practice and the conclusions are not encouraging.

From the report (.pdf)

The Bush Administration’s use of presidential signing statements to indicate disapproval of enacted legislation has generated confusion and has undermined congressional oversight of national defense policy, the House Armed Services Committee said in a report this week

78 percent of President Bush’s more than 150 signing statements have raised constitutional or legal objections, compared with only 18% of all of President Clinton’s.

“Signing statements may, if used appropriately, serve a legitimate function as a tool for continuing dialog between the President, Congress, and the public. On the other hand, signing statements may be a mechanism to expand executive authority at the expense of the legislature,” the Committee report said.

As the report makes clear, not all signing statements are bad. Sometimes they're useful and entirely appropriate, and sometimes they're used for naked power grabs that are nearly impossible to challenge. Well, it appears 78% of President Bush's fall into the latter category.

That begs the obvious question: Which laws has Bush challenged?

1. A provision in the 2008 defense bill that would make it illegal to build permanent bases in Iraq. The White House is currently pushing for 58 bases.

2. A bill outlawing the use of torture on detainees. McCain did a lot of grandstanding on the day this law "passed," but he hasn't said anything since about Bush's refusal to abide it.

3. A provision in the Patriot Act that requires the White House to inform Congress on how the FBI was using it's new spying powers. This one naturally led to the FBI severely abusing their power.

etc. etc.

You know what happens after the President is called out on his lawbreaking, right? The White House should expect Congress' Strongly Worded Letter™ any day now.

[HT: Satyam]

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