Literally days after proclaiming that change had come to “signing statements” with a new policy, President Obama has issued a very Bush-like signing statement with his signing of the appropriations bill. The signing statement reserves the right to treat literally dozens of provisions as presumptively unconstitutional.
This week, Obama ordered his government to ignore provision-bypassing signing statements and signaling that he would not continue Bush’s highly controversial use of the power. In fairness, Obama did not promise to forego the use of such signing statement but said that he would use “with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well founded.” That statement appeared in anticipation of his objections to the spending bill.
The provisions that Obama rejected dealt with such things as a provision barring the expenditure of money on any United Nations peacekeeping missions where United States troops are put under a foreign commander unless Mr. Obama’s military advisers so recommend.
That particular provision is troubling to me as a constitutional matter. The Framers expressly gave Congress the power of the purse as a check and balance on executive authority. The use of appropriations to restrict “foreign entanglements” and “adventures” was well-accepted. This has a true Bush-like quality as a signing statement.
Obama should simply disavow all signing statements, at least those that seek to alter the meaning or refuse to comply with provisions. The American Bar Association and many academics have encouraged Obama to take such a principled stand.
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