As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Signing Statements Redux?

Barack Obama is signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in Denver at this hour, and I think the consensus among the progblogs is that this is a positive step for the country, if only a step. There will be a down payment on reinvesting in long-term infrastructure, education, energy and health care while providing a quick boost to the economy through direct payments, increases in unemployment insurance and food stamps, and reduction of withholding. It's a very big legislative victory.

I certainly don't like the rumblings, however, that the White House is seeking changes to the executive compensation rules in the bill, which has now passed both houses of Congress. That after-the-fact maneuvering is very reminiscent of how George Bush would ignore federal statutes and undermine American law.

Facing a stricter approach to limiting executive bonuses than it had favored, the Obama administration wants to revise that part of the stimulus package even after it becomes law, White House officials said Sunday.

While President Barack Obama plans to sign the $787 billion stimulus bill in Denver on Tuesday, his administration will seek changes in the government's approach to executive compensation, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said in a television interview.

"We all have the same goal. We all have the same sentiment. And we want to do something that's workable, and we'll work with them to get to that point," Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday."

They are drinking the Kool-Aid that CEOs would flee American companies (like anybody's hiring right now) and that they must be placated, because $500,000 isn't a lot of money or whatever. And they're getting a lot of special interest pressure as well. The Treasury Department could have up to a year to announce the implementation of these pay caps, which would buy time for industry to find a loophole around what is actually a well-conceived provision.

But the actual issue at hand is a side note. It's the process here that deeply concerns me. We have to say no to autocrats deciding outside the legislative process what will be made law and what will not be. Kagro X describes this well.

Whatever the differences, let's be clear about what it means that Congress has passed this set of restrictions, and President Obama is signing them into law tomorrow. Any changes he'd like to see made, he ought to seek to have made legislatively. After two weeks of seeing the stimulus bill watered down and slashed in a futile attempt to "reach out" to Republicans who all eventually gave him the finger, do you think we could maybe, possibly not have the President unilaterally take an axe to a wildly popular provision added to the package by members of his own party?

I'm not a presidential adviser, of course. But I'm thinking that maybe this ought to be approached with a bit more caution, and more signals need to be sent that the President is committed to making any fixes he wants through the legislative process. Any ambiguity isn't likely to help him when it comes time to sell another $2 trillion round of TARP funding in the coming weeks. The constant worry of Obama's most critical allies on the Hill with respect to the TARP is that Congressional oversight not fall by the wayside. If the White House's opening move on oversight is to announce its intention not only to make decisions unilaterally, but to brush aside enacted statute in doing so, we're going to be in for a bumpy ride.

Obama needs to think extremely hard about this. Failing to fulfill constitutional responsibilities to execute the laws would be catastrophic. It would render Congress as irrelevant as they were in the Bush years. We don't elect a king.

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