POLITICS
08/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

House Chairs Push Back Against Obama Signing Statements

House Democrats issued a warning to President Obama on Tuesday: Cool it with the signing statements.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, joined Rep. David Obey, chair of the Appropriations Committee, and two of their respective subcommittee chairs to send a statement to Obama warning him that use of the statements, which signal that the president does not feel bound by some pieces of the legislation they pass, makes it more difficult to corral support on close votes.

Their complaint refers to a statement Obama appended to the war supplemental, a bill that prompted stiff opposition from House Republicans, antiwar Democrats and civil-liberties advocates last month. Ultimately House leadership pushed through funding for the International Monetary Fund, tallying the necessary votes by erasing the Senate-supported detainee photo ban from the final version of the bill. But the final bill also attached strings to the IMF funding, strings that Obama's signing statement indicates he does not intend to respect.

Signing statements have been used by presidents throughout U.S. history to dissent from certain elements of a particular bill. President George W. Bush issued more than 750 during his eight years in office suggesting that he did not intend to abide by a wide variety of laws passed by Congress. By comparison, President Bill Clinton issued only 140 signing statements during his two terms. President George H.W. Bush signed 230 during his single term.

"During the previous administration, all of us were critical of the President's assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce. We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude," the committee chairs wrote in Tuesday's letter. "[T]he policy of using signing statements to assert the right of the White House to ignore certain provisions of legislation regarding the IMF, the World Bank, and other international financial institutions may result not in the invalidation of those various provisions, but rather in insufficient Congressional support for further funding of these institutions."

Obama appended his first signing statement to the omnibus spending bill in March. During the campaign, however, he had vowed not to use signing statements once in office, saying, "We're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress." WATCH:

Tuesday's letter appears in full below:

July 21, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We were surprised to read your signing statement in which you expressed the view that you are constitutionally free to ignore the conditions duly adopted in the legislative process regarding funding for the international financial institutions. As you know, there was a great deal of resistance to this funding during debate on the supplemental bill -- as there often is for these entities -- and the four of us worked very hard to support the inclusion of funding for the IMF and the World Bank.

The conditions that you have expressed your right to ignore are critical: each represents significant policy concerns, especially in light of the history of many of the international financial institutions that we believe have been insufficiently supportive of values that we know you share with us. In addition, these conditions were important in securing support in both houses.

During the previous administration, all of us were critical of the President's assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce. We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude.

Along with your assurances that you will respect these conditions, we request that you no longer assert the right to ignore provisions that Congress adds through the normal legislative process for funding for the international financial institutions.

If we are forced to conclude that you will not accept the terms and conditions under which the legislation passed, we must make clear that - both as a matter of the personal preference of those of us signing this letter and as a practical matter from the standpoint of getting sufficient votes to pass these measures in the future - it will make it virtually impossible to provide further allocations for these institutions. That is, the policy of using signing statements to assert the right of the White House to ignore certain provisions of legislation regarding the IMF, the World Bank, and other international financial institutions may result not in the invalidation of those various provisions, but rather in insufficient Congressional support for further funding of these institutions.

REP. BARNEY FRANK
Chairman, House Financial Services Committee

REP. DAVID R. OBEY
Chairman, House Appropriations Committee

REP. NITA M. LOWEY
Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

REP. GREGORY W. MEEKS
Chairman, House Financial Services Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy

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