"[I]t is a clear abuse of power to use such [Presidential signing] statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability.
I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law."
- Senator Barack Obama, December 20, 2007 (Boston Globe)
"However, provisions of [HR 2436] ... would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments, or by requiring consultation with the Congress prior to such negotiations or discussions. I will not treat these provisions as limiting my ability to engage in foreign diplomacy or negotiations."
The message sent, tellingly on a news-cycle-shy Saturday, is that those who sought legal idealism from the Obama administration won't be getting it, and those who saw a bloated, creeping Executive branch under Bush/Cheney have not, after all, voted in a choirboy. The creep has been slowed, not stopped.
While the Obama administration's pace of signing statements is currently about 1/12th of what the Bush administration's was (5 statements in 5 months against 1,100 by Bush across 8 years), that number is rightfully of little comfort to fans of the balance of powers. It is long past time to walk away from to the rhetorical binaries of the campaign trail, because on the subject of Executive power, the President absolutely has.
Not for the first time, the Obama White House has thumbed its nose at the concept that massive financial institutions such as the IMF deserve to be held accountable for what they do. Congress made it law that the President's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on the matter of worker's rights, greenhouse gas costs, and its overlap with the World Bank will be done above board, with reports to Congress. Obama has chosen to evade that law.
In a precise example of an "end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability", the President's signing statement is, in his own words of 2007, a "clear abuse of power" that reinforces the idea that business interests can turn off the lights whenever they choose -- or get their centrist President to do it for them.
UPDATE: Further research is showing that the counting of signing statements I gave is inexact. Some published counts are of the number of statements signed, some counts are of the number of provisions of law affected by the statement.
According to a well-annotated FAQ on signing statements, the Bush total of 1,100 pertains to the number of provisions of law affected by his use of the mechanism (which he used 161 times.) President Obama has affected about 18 provisions of law in 6 or 7 signing statements in five months in office.
This changes the comparison math, and not in Obama's favor: Obama's use on average of statements to affect provisions of law is 3.6/mo on average (18/5) where Bush's average is 11.4/mo average (1100/96).
This puts Obama's use of the statements at around 32% of Bush's - about 4 times worse than I said it was in the first place.
UPDATE 2: A commenter is correct that I failed to link to the June 24th statement in question. I have altered the post to include the link.
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