On Monday, Bush signed the 2008 Defense authorization bill into law. In it he singled out four of 2,887 sections for his now notorious signing statement. He said that these four provisions "purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief. The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."
What were these egregious provisions that could tie the commander-in-chief's hands and threaten our national security? They all had to do with oversight. According to the Congressional Quarterly:
One such provision sets up a commission to probe contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another expands protections for whistleblowers who work for government contractors. A third requires that U.S. intelligence agencies promptly respond to congressional requests for documents. And a fourth bars funding for permanent bases in Iraq and for any action that exercises U.S. control over Iraq's oil money.
I will leave it to others to discuss the provision about barring funding for permanent bases. As some of my readers know, the Freshman Democratic Senators, lead by Senators Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb, pushed through a Wartime Contracting Commission, patterned after the old Truman Committee that was so successful at exposing World War II contactor fraud while the war was still going on. The old Truman committee was reported to save $15 billion (1943 dollars) in taxpayer dollars.
I know that there have been dozens of commissions looking at the DOD for years and all to show from it was reports gathering dust in the archives. But these Freshman Senators were determined to set this up to actually investigate contracting fraud and send referrals to the Department of Justice for prosecution even as the war continued. This commission will also look at ways to stop the hemorrhaging of contractor money. It is surreal that this president feels that he has to single this commission to ignore at his whim because he thinks it could threaten his ability to protect this country.
Another provision that he included in the signing statement was a provision that gave more protection to contractor employees who want to expose fraud. In the course of researching my book, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, I interviewed dozens of contractor employees in Iraq. Most of them were too afraid to go public but were outraged at what their employers were doing in Iraq, especially to the detriment of the troops.
But Webb, the Jedi Knight of the Freshman Democratic Senators, stormed to the Senate floor and declared his defiance to this signing statement.
"...the President of the United States -- who has been in charge of the conduct of this war and whose administration has been in charge of executing these contracts, supervising them, making sure that they meet the requirements of fairness in the law -- is now saying that he believes that a legislative body can enact a law that he can choose to ignore because he says it would interfere with his responsibility to supervise a war as Commander-and-Chief.
I am at a total loss here. I am amazed to see this kind of language employed with respect to this legislation.
The Commission was put into place with broad bipartisan and bicameral support, with the intention of studying systemic problems. I would think that these are the sorts of problems that this president would want to root out.
The Commission's historic precedent goes back to the Truman Committee of World War II. Then-Senator Harry Truman wanted to look at wartime waste, fraud, and abuse so that the American government could get a proper handle on the federal spending that was going into mobilization and the projects that were being put on the line. And we certainly didn't see President Franklin Roosevelt trying to say that the Truman Committee's work was going to interfere with his ability to conduct World War II...
...If the administration would like to explain to us what their constitutional issue is with a piece of legislation that the President has just signed, we would be happy to hear that. In the meantime, we are moving forward with this Commission. It is vitally important to accountability in the government, and I'm very proud to have introduced it. We are marching forward."
Webb and Bush have tangled before about Iraq, even to the point of discussing Webb's son and his deployment to Iraq. Let's just hope that the Congress has the same moxie as Webb, inserts its constitutional rights and begins this commission soon. We need to get control of the contractor money and also get some of the ill gotten gains back. Otherwise, the war service industry contractors will have a permanent institutional hold on the US Treasury without oversight.