It’s Bush’s fault I’m sure

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on April 16, 2011

Candidate Barack Obama on the evil of signing statements:

That was then

President Barack Obama upon signing the continuing resolution for the remainder of FY2011.

Last week the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans were involved in intense negotiations over not only the size of the budget for the remainder of the FY2011 budget, and spending cuts within that budget, but also several GOP “riders,” or policy provisions attached to the bill.

One rider – Section 2262 -- de-funds certain White House adviser positions – or “czars.” The president in his signing statement declares that he will not abide by it.

“The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority,” he wrote. “The President also has the prerogative to obtain advice that will assist him in carrying out his constitutional responsibilities, and do so not only from executive branch officials and employees outside the White House, but also from advisers within it. Legislative efforts that significantly impede the President's ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers by undermining the President's ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Therefore, the president wrote, “the executive branch will construe section 2262 not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives.”

In other words: we know what you wanted that provision to do, but we don’t think it’s constitutional, so we will interpret it differently than the way you meant it.

I’m not with candidate Obama on signing statements. I think they can be a valid exercise of presidential power in keeping with checks and balances and the separation of powers. (For example, I think this one is perfectly valid.)

However, in this case, I think Obama’s out of line. The Congress has the power of the purse. If they refuse to authorize funding for specific staff positions, then those people can’t be paid. I concur that Obama can still obtain advice from whomever he chooses—he just can’t pay them a salary.

Like so many other things (Guantanamo Bay, drone missile strikes, military commission trials) Obama’s political rhetoric on signing statements was dishonest (or naïve). An apology to President Bush would be nice, but it would require a bigger man than Obama has proven to be.


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April 2011



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