Third Party & Independents Archives

Who Cares about Signing Statements?

The backroom negotiation of Congressional bills is a dirty, sometimes corrupt, process of negotiation and arm twisting. Congress can be very insulted when their perilous balance is in question. I remember the moaning and gnashing of teeth when Clinton had the line item veto…
Why is it that Congress doesn’t seem to actually care about Bush’s signing statements even though some of the signing statements have eviscerated the entire intent of the bill?

Bush's signing statements are in the news now.

We have some actual examples in this article from the Boston Globe. Boston Globe has also given us details about the process and the history of usage.

Most of this coverage is recent, but those who look can find warnings sent by someone with experience months ago.

I tried to look for the signing statements myself - but I can't find them. One news article told me they were in the weekly brief - but the search didn't turn anything up and I certainly don't want to read every press brief on looking for them... Another article says they are all in the Federal Register. I think I may have a chance there, but its search will require a bit of dedication...

When I went on the site for the Congressional record, I wasn't expecting much because I have difficulty finding finished versions of bills. I think they're only in the Code and I just haven't wanted to deal with that yet.

It was interesting that there were 2 proposals on May 25, 2006.

  • HR 5486 for the House Committee on Reform - 9 cosponsors

  • HJ Resolution 87 referred to Committee on Judiciary and Committee on Rules- 5 cosponsors.

We can also find some articles about pushback.

This is all well and good, but it seems like more representatives should be putting their name on these bills.
I also wonder why we didn't hear about this from them a long time ago. I do not believe that they have the same difficulty discovering this type of information that I do.

Why don't they defend their rightful place in our system of checks and balances?
What can we do if they won't do anything for themselves?


Posted by Christine at June 6, 2006 10:25 PM
Comment #155013

We can vote them out of office and put folks in that will demand their rightful place in our system of checks and balances. And then use it.

Posted by: Ron Brown at June 7, 2006 12:53 AM
Comment #155015

Bush worshippers please explain why you agree with these signing statements and how its a good thing for the American people.

Posted by: j2t2 at June 7, 2006 1:28 AM
Comment #155029

I agree, j2t2. President Bush’s opinion of a law shouldn’t have any more relevance than my own. It’s the President’s job to execute the law, not interpret it; that’s up to the judicial branch.

Posted by: American Pundit at June 7, 2006 2:57 AM
Comment #155095

Hopefully the sarcastic title didn’t stop anyone from reading the examples we do have. Since people don’t always follow links, I’ve decided I better highlight them.

Here are 10 examples and the dates Bush signed them:

March 9: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Bush’s signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.

Dec. 30, 2005: US interrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Bush’s signing statement: The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.

Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay.

Bush’s signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

Aug. 8: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.

Bush’s signing statement: The president or his appointees will determine whether employees of the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can give information to Congress.

Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense. Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.

Bush’s signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces, so the executive branch will construe the law “as advisory in nature.”

Dec. 17: The new national intelligence director shall recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community.

Bush’s signing statement: The executive branch shall construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing “equal protection” for all. (In 2003, the Bush administration argued against race-conscious affirmative-action programs in a Supreme Court case. The court rejected Bush’s view.)

Oct. 29: Defense Department personnel are prohibited from interfering with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders.

Bush’s signing statement: All military attorneys are bound to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration’s lawyers in the Justice Department and the Pentagon when giving advice to their commanders.

Aug. 5: The military cannot add to its files any illegally gathered intelligence, including information obtained about Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.

Bush’s signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can tell the military whether or not it can use any specific piece of intelligence.

Nov. 6, 2003: US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation. The inspector general must tell Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries.

Bush’s signing statement: The inspector general “shall refrain” from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon. The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations.

Nov. 5, 2002: Creates an Institute of Education Sciences whose director may conduct and publish research “without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department.”

Bush’s signing statement: The president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, so the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education

Wondering why Bush thinks he has the right to do this is one part of the issue (and I do vehemently disagree with his assertion).
But Congress is not challenging him on it, so it’s not out of character for this administration to continue and escalate the behavior…
Why does Congress put up with this?
Why did they stay silent about it?


Posted by: Christine at June 7, 2006 10:03 AM
Comment #155099

I had a speeding ticket last week. I should have signed it using a sigining statement: “This citizen has the power to refuse payment of violations based on laws created in a pre - 9-11 world.”

Maybe I will use these when I sign checks to pay my bills. “This citizen may or may not have funds available when this document is processed. Furthermore, future payments may terminate without notice.”

Life would be great being all powerful.

Posted by: europheus at June 7, 2006 10:21 AM
Comment #155100

Christine 2 things come to mind as to why they are silent about this issue. Money to get re-elected causes them to toe the party line, or they agree with the way this is done and look forward to more of the same in the future. Its easier to be critical of Judges and call them activist to divert attention to them whilst you consolidate power into one branch of the government.

Posted by: j2t2 at June 7, 2006 10:24 AM
Comment #155135

Christine, great article on an extremely important topic.
This Republican Congress may not care about Bush trying to expand his powers, usurp legislative authority or worry about maintaining our system of checks and balances, but obviously We the People do care very much. Clearly we need to start sending them the message of how we strongly disapprove of the way the Republican majority has been abrogating their duty to America — and seemingly only because the president is also a Republican.
You mentioned how much work you would have to put into this in order to look at all these signing statements, but perhaps you haven’t heard that the American Bar Association recently announced that they’re going to investigate all 750 instances where Bush has challenged the law? Right now they’re in the process of organizing a bipartisan panel of judges and legal scholars for this investigation, and when they are finished, they will be issuing recommendations on their findings — which is expected to be finished by August.
Additionally, at least one Republican has already acknowledged that what Bush is doing is illegal and wrong, Sen. Arlen Specter previously promised to hold a hearing this month on Bush’s use of signing statements.
I think it’s just too bad that this hearing is to take place before the ABA has the chance to issue their recommendations.

Posted by: Adrienne at June 7, 2006 12:08 PM
Comment #155152

The problem in DC is that everyone wants to usurp the powers of everyone else.
The Executive branch want to take the powers of the Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch.
The Legislative Branch wants to take the powers of the Executive branch and Judicial branch.
And the Judicial branch wants to take the powers of the Legislative branch and Executive branch.
What we need is politicians, on both sides, and Justices that respect the Constitution. The problem is none of our current crop does that.

PS Thank God for spell check.

Posted by: Ron Brown at June 7, 2006 12:40 PM
Comment #155183

Thanks for pointing that out Adrienne.
I am happy that this will be investigated (finally) and it was a mistake to forget to mention it.
I’m just very upset that we’re finding out about this so late. If we can’t trust the people who claim to represent us and facts we need to know are buried in the public record, we need to have a strong press sorting all of this out for us. Instead, the “inside” press in the position to know ignored the issue for years.
Now that it finally gets publicized, we have some activity.

I also know that the People are supposed to have the power, but I have a high degree of pessimism. If actual laws are being considered “advisory in nature”, what impact does our increased knowledge even have?


Posted by: Christine at June 7, 2006 1:40 PM
Comment #155186

Maybe they’ll notice if we all put signing statements on our tax returns…


Posted by: Christine at June 7, 2006 1:44 PM
Comment #155188

Ron Brown
I would be tempted to agree with you, but it seems the Legislative branch doesn’t want to have any power at all…


Posted by: Christine at June 7, 2006 1:47 PM
Comment #156293

Here’s an egregious example of one of Bush’s signing statements; it exemplifies the criminality of this administration. And Pelosi says impeachment is off the table?

Posted by: Tim Crow at June 10, 2006 3:31 PM
Comment #156334

If we agree all branches are “co-equal”, why can the president not say a law violates the constitution and refuse to enforce it, because his principle duty is to the constition not the statute. When there is a disagrement between Congress and the Executive, the courts can decide who has the better argument.

(Of course, you have to find someone with standing to challenge a decision by the President, that is the difficult part, and individual congressmen do not usually have standing to challenge the president)

Posted by: Justin at June 10, 2006 6:41 PM
Comment #156510

This longer Boston Globe article has more examples and explanation of the signing statements.
In this article, the investigation of the $9 M isn’t specifically connected with the limitations on Inspector General in Iraq, but Tim Crow’s article is probably right about that. Personally, I think the money went to the secret prisons and renditions - black ops always require creative accounting…

This quote is also interesting

“He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises — and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.

Congress doesn’t even know?


Posted by: Christine at June 11, 2006 12:42 PM
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