Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Signing Statements

I would like to suggest a new and badly needed procedure for the 110th Congress. Assign a committee to read every signing statement that Bush has added to legislation during his tenure; and empower that committee to pay particular attention to any legislation that was signed while Congress was in recess, on Fridays prior to long weekends, or at any other time that the media and Congress has historically been less than vigilant. Of course, this needs to be an ongoing policy, for there to be a committee and staff responsible for vigilance in all signing statements as well as all other actions taken by the executive during recesses and long weekends. The administration is adding to the powers of the executive branch by taking these two actions. It is typical of Bush that he gets around Congress by Executive Order and appointments taken when Congress is not in session. If Congress doesn’t approve his appointment, he simply waits until Congress is in recess, and then makes an emergency appointment. If Congress passes a bill forbidding torture 99 to 1, he simply adds a signing statement to the effect that he shall construe the bill to apply to others but not to him. If he knows that Congress will not grant him the right to read our mail, he just attaches a signing statement to a routine post office bill, stating that he shall construe that bill to mean that he can read anyone’s mail, and slips it through during a recess.

There is already a dedicated website Presidential Signing Statements which would cut out much of the work.

Bush's most recent signing statement, dated December 29,2006, gives a flavor of what he is doing.

The executive branch shall also construe provisions of the Act that refer to submission of requests to the Congress for reprogramming or transfer of funds, or to obtaining congressional committee approval, such as sections 708(c)(6) and 709(b)(2) of the 1998 Act, as enacted by sections 401 and 501 of the Act, as requiring only notification.

The executive branch shall construe provisions of the Act that purport to authorize or require executive branch officials to submit legislative recommendations to the Congress in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for congressional consideration such measures as the President shall judge necessary and expedient.

Note what Bush does with the language here. First he states that while the Act says he must submit requests to Congress for transferring of funds, he shall construe it as only requiring notification (and he leaves the deadline for notification open ended); second he states that he must do what he chooses to do consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive! But, as we all know very well, the Constitution speaks nowhere to a "unitary executive." The unitary executive is the construction that Bush, Cheney, Alioto, Roberts, and Gonzalez are putting on the Constitution. But, what the Constitution clearly delineates, and Bush et. al. are sworn to support, is the separation of powers and checks and balances.

These two tricks, first stating that he shall construe his need to follow the legislation in the opposite way of its intention (or, as in the postal bill, in a way not even considered in its intention or language) and referring to his constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive, are in every signing statement that I have read. It seems to me that he is making a case, not only for being above the law, but for there being an unitary executive. That by saying, again and again, that it is his constitutional authority to uphold this mythical entity, he is attempting to establish precedent to bring it into being.


Ally Bean said...

Excellent points. I'm scared of any unitary executive running any country. Especially someone who I don't think is very bright.

And all this sneakiness to get things his way doesn't sit well with me either. I've always believed that manipulators like confusion because then they can get people to do what they want them to do. And this way of getting things his way is all about using the system to create confusion.

Deja Pseu said...

He's like a spoiled little boy who steals money out of Mom's purse while she's napping. Except that it's all of us he's stealing from now. I hope I live long enough to see the history books treat his administration as a shameful blot on this country's past.

Py Korry said...

I was reading an article in the paper (it was either the San Francisco Chronicle or the NY Times) about how the Bush administration creates rationales for political action that may be unconstitutional (via Executive Orders and other legal powers granted to the presidential branch) and then uses those newly created laws to argue precedent if they are ever taken to court. Clever move! And since Bush has been able to make quite a few appointments to the federal courts, his chances of getting jurors who fundamenally agree with his legal resaoning are very good.

AlwaysQuestion said...

Oh, good job! Thank you for sharing this!
I think I need to update my links.

J said...

He wants to be our king. King of the asshats, is more like it. Grrr. If he can't push it through honestly, he needs to go back and make his case again, and either convince them that he's right, or concede that he's not going to get it done. Not that he would ever do anything that ethical.

Jenny said...

What a loser he is. Unitary, sheesh

Ginnie said...

A while back I wrote a blog entitled "Who is Brave Enough to Bell the Cat?"...don't you wish we could do this to our politicians?
All of them, including the President. His sneaky ways are disgraceful and I honestly don't see how he and his cronies can sleep at night.

Betty said...

I agree. And, I suggest that Congress make a rule that there will be nothing passed in the dead of night, either. Such as pay raises. But, Pres. Bush needs to be monitored very carefully for the next two years, because I feel he will pull more and more underhanded things as the end of his presidency gets closer. I hope the Democrats will be up to the task of undoing many of the damaging things he has done, such as the house rule that the minority party cannot put forward any bills. That's one rule of which most people aren't aware.

Dee said...

Very well put. I also do not like one person having so much power. Especially one that stands up and says, 'bring it on' while young men are putting their lives on the line because he wants to play napoleon.

I do not trust him at all.

joared said...

Hear! Hear! This is certainly an excellent idea.