Monday, January 9, 2006

Bush Arrogance

I read something yesterday that tripped all my Spidey senses. Evidently, last month President Bush agreed to accept the ban on torture but then later reserved the right to ignore it as he signed it into law using a little known device called a bill signing statement. Why it is little known is beyond me since he has used it over 500 times during his tenure, more than the last three presidents combined. (Clinton 105, H.W. Bush 146 and Reagan 71)

Bill signing statements don't have the force of law but they send a powerful signal to executive branch agencies on how the White House wants them to be interpreted. According to legal experts, Bush has in every case, interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible and interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, preempting the judiciary branch. In some cases, Bush bluntly informed Congress that he has no intention of carrying out provisions that he considers an unconstitutional encroachment on his authority. I find this an arrogance of power.

Congress has clashed with Bush over signing statements before. In 2002, lawmakers from both parties vigorously objected when Bush offered a narrow interpretation of whistle-blower protections in legislation on corporate fraud. After a series of angry letters from Congress to the White House, the administration backed down. Some members of the current Congress from both parties also question the legal authority of presidential signing statements. Do you want to hear a real non-shocker? It turns out that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito wrote a 1986 memo outlining plans for expanded use of presidential-signing statements.

This country was founded largely because we rebelled against having a king and so the balanced the powers of government. We gave congress the power to make the laws, the President the power to execute them and the judicial branch the power to interpret them, not the President. Signing statements are a terrible off setting of this balance of powers in my opinion. The Constitution says that if the President doesn't like a law he can veto it, even just one single line of it. By using a signing statement, Congress and thus the people aren't even given a chance to override it.

In 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush's use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds. Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement. Surprised? I'm not.

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