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

Friday, July 10, 2009

Un-Signing The Signing Statements


The House rebuked President Obama for trying to ignore restrictions to international aid payments, voting overwhelmingly for an amendment forcing the administration to abide by its constraints.

House members approved an amendment by a 429-2 vote to have the Obama administration pressure the World Bank to strengthen labor and environmental standards and require a Treasury Department report on World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) activities. The amendment to a 2010 funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations was proposed by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), but it received broad bipartisan support.

The conditions on World Bank and IMF funding were part of the $106 billion war supplemental bill that was passed last month. Obama, in a statement made as he signed the bill, said that he would ignore the conditions.

They would "interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments, or by requiring consultation with the Congress prior to such negotiations or discussions," Obama said in the signing statement [...]

President George W. Bush had used signing statements to ignore a number of provisions in bills that he signed into law, frustrating Democrats in Congress. One Bush signing statement allowed the administration to ignore a provision banning the torture of terror detainees in situations threatening the nation's security.

Frank and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Texas) said that one way they could get presidents to stop issuing signing statements casting aside laws would be to refuse to fund their priorities. The amendment passed Thursday seeks to nullify Obama's signing statement by withholding funds from any agreement involving the Treasury Department that doesn't follow the conditions set out in the supplemental bill.

"The signal we send to the Treasury is very clear: Ignore statute at your peril," Kirk said.

As long as the executive is given a power, he or she will probably keep using it. It's up to the legislative branch to assert their authority. Of course this never happened with a Republican in the White House, as the GOP sees their role in those situations as human shields. But I really don't care about partisanship when it comes to reining in the runaway executive and restoring balance to the branches of government. Congress has a lot more power than they've been using over the years, and while this is a small point, I'm happy if it leads to signing statements going the way of the dodo bird.

...I was hinting at this, but David Waldman fleshes it out:

Pretty much as predicted, Congressional Democrats find their spine in standing up to expansive executive power as soon as there's a Democrat in the White House. Actually confronting a Republican president about it was apparently too politically difficult for them to contemplate. Why? Because Republicans would have voted against it, meaning that standing up for institutional prerogatives and the separation of powers is a politicized issue. It's "partisan bickering" when Democrats say this about Republican presidents, but "bipartisan agreement" when they say it about Democrats, because it's only when it's said about Democrats that Republicans agree that there ought to be a separation of powers.

Which of course means that such a separation only has a hope of existing as the founders intended when there's a Democrat in the White House. Which hasn't been all that often since the advent of the Nixonian "Imperial Presidency," mind you.

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