Governing is different

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on July 21, 2009

President Barack Obama has got some members of his own party up on Capitol Hill in a tizzy over something he vowed during the campaign he wouldn’t dousing signing statements to ignore selected provisions of bills passed by Congress.

Four senior House Democrats on Tuesday said they were "surprised" and "chagrined" by Obama's declaration in June that he doesn't have to comply with provisions in a war spending bill that puts conditions on aid provided to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In a signing statement accompanying the $106 billion bill, Obama said he wouldn't allow the legislation to interfere with his authority as president to conduct foreign policy and negotiate with other governments.

Earlier in his six-month-old administration, Obama issued a similar statement regarding provisions in a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. He also included qualifying remarks when signing legislation that established commissions to govern public lands in New York, investigate the financial crisis and celebrate Ronald Reagan's birthday.

"During the previous administration, all of us were critical of (Bush's) assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce," the Democrats wrote in their letter to Obama. "We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude."

The letter was signed by Reps. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as well as Reps. Nita Lowey and Gregory Meeks, both of New York, who chair subcommittees on those panels.

Now, Obama may very well be correct that those provisions in the aforementioned bill infringe upon duties exclusively reserved for the executive branch and should therefore be ignored.

I’m not sure what the restrictions were placed on the IMF and World Bank funding in the aforementioned bill. I’ve got no idea if those restrictions were good ideas or bad ideas. The point is that Obama and his fellow Democrats were harping on this issue for much of the Bush presidency – with the media helpfully falling in line – as some sort of abuse of power. Now that Obama sits in the Oval Office, Obama – and much of the media (witness the first Politifact link that characterizes Obama’s promise as “stalled”) – aren’t so troubled by the maneuver.

Obama is no different than Bush was on this issue – and that may be the constitutionally correct position. However, it’s Obama’s doubletalk on issue that is not indicative of “hope” or, more importantly, “change” that was promised.

For the record: Reps. Obey, Frank, Lowey and Meeks deserve credit for their consistency on the issue.

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