Sunday, April 22, 2007

The "Signing Statement" - Bush's Secret Source of Power.

Pulitzer winner Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe discovered President Bush's aggressive pursuit of expanding his power using the "Signing Statement" as no other President has before him.

"Signing Statements" is a way of constitutionally challenging laws and claiming the authority to bypass laws without issuing vetoes. They are technical legal documents which a President can file in the federal record and they contain his interpretation of what the law means and what it doesn’t mean and instructions to the Federal Bureaucracy or the military about how they are to implement the law.

President Bush often makes constitutional objection to the statues and provisions that he thinks intrude on his own powers as commander and chief to run the government or head the executive branch as he sees fit.

President George W. Bush -- 750 Signing Statements in 5 years
President Bill Clinton -- 140 Signing Statements in 8 years
President George H. W. Bush -- 232 Signing Statements in 4 years

Signing Statements are more powerful than vetoes:

  1. One can take out bits and pieces of the bill that one does not like while keeping the rest in tact.
  2. Congress has the power to override a veto which is one of the checks and balances the founders put into the Constitution whereas a signing statement is a unilateral final word on what is going to count and what is not going to be part of the law.
  3. Signing Statements generally pass without notice in the public, media and congress. Vetoing comes under political scrutiny
  4. President gets to become final arbiter as to what’s Constitutional as opposed to letting the courts decide. Aside from the excessive number of signing statements Bush has, he also chooses segments of the bill that will never get into court.
  5. There is no alerting Congress as to these signing statements although congress could look into them if they so choose. Congress has chosen not to do that or has not even thought to do that as signing statements have not been a normal part of our governing system thus far.
President Bush has also challenged many statutes using "Signing Statements" in the following areas:
  1. Requiring congressional oversight committees to be given information about how the government is conducting a certain area of its business.
  2. Affirmative action provisions that require the government to try to make sure minorities receive a share of contracts and grants and jobs.
  3. Whistle blower statutes which allow members of the executive branch to speak out about government wrongdoing without fear of losing their job if they tell congress about it. He said only he as the head of executive branch can decide what congress receives.
  4. Safeguards against political interference on federally funded research.
After Abu Ghraib congress passed a series of new laws in response to that scandal which were all severely curtailed by President Bush's use of "Signing Statements."

  1. Congress set up a broad ranging Inspector General in Iraq that would go around and have the power to uncover any kind of wrongdoing by US forces and officials in Iraq. They specifically said no official could get in the way of any inquiry or subpoena of an official that the Inspector General wanted to issue and if anyone tried to interfere or didn’t cooperate in any way the Inspector General was immediately to tell congress about it. Bush limited what the Inspector General could investigate and secondly he made sure the Inspector General could not tell congress anything without the permission of the President and his appointees. The Inspector General shall not investigate intelligence, national security, or anything the Pentagon decides to investigate on its own.
  2. Congress also required the retraining of prison guards in the Geneva Convention world wide. Bush removed any restrictions placed on him from changing how prison guards were trained even if those methods did not meet Geneva Convention standards.
  3. Regarding private contractors, congress created stronger rules on the use of private contractors. Background checks were required for all private contractors and they were barred from participating in any type of criminal justice process. Bush stipulated that he could set up rules and regulations for private contractors and override the new rules.

It's a scary thought to think that President Bush has afforded himself the right to interpret the Constitution as he sees fit. Other Presidents have done this but nowhere near as frequently or as aggressively as President Bush has and no President has done this while abandoning their veto power.

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