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Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2006 21:55:17 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Bush Signings Called Effort to Expand Power

Bush Signings Called Effort to Expand Power

Report sees broad strategy

By Charlie Savage

October 5, 2006 by the Boston Globe

WASHINGTON - President Bush's frequent use of signing
statements to assert that he has the power to disobey newly
enacted laws is ``an integral part" of his ``comprehensive
strategy to strengthen and expand executive power" at the
expense of the legislative branch, according to a report by
the non partisan Congressional Research Service.

In a 27-page report written for lawmakers, the research
service said the Bush administration is using signing
statements as a means to slowly condition Congress into
accepting the White House's broad conception of presidential
power, which includes a presidential right to ignore laws he
believes are unconstitutional.

The ``broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive
authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure
Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the president
in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which
the other branches may not intrude," the report said.

Under most interpretations of the Constitution, the report
said, some of the legal assertions in Bush's signing
statements are dubious. For example, it said, the
administration has suggested repeatedly that the president has
exclusive authority over foreign affairs and has an absolute
right to withhold information from Congress. Such assertions
are ``generally unsupported by established legal principles,"
the report said.

Despite such criticism, the administration has continued to
issue signing statements for new laws. Last week, for example,
Bush signed the 2007 military budget bill, but then issued a
statement challenging 16 of its provisions.

The bill bars the Pentagon from using any intelligence that
was collected illegally, including information about Americans
that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's
protections against unreasonable government surveillance.

In Bush's signing statement, he suggested that he alone could
decide whether the Pentagon could use such information. His
signing statement instructed the military to view the law in
light of ``the president's constitutional authority as
commander in chief, including for the conduct of intelligence
operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch."

Bush also challenged three sections that require the Pentagon
to notify Congress before diverting funds to new purposes,
including top-secret activities or programs. Congress had
already decided against funding. Bush said he was not bound to
obey such statutes if he decided, as commander in chief, that
withholding such information from Congress was necessary to
protect security secrets.

Like all Congressional Research Service reports, the report,
dated Sept. 20 and titled ``Presidential Signing Statements:
Constitutional and Institutional Implications," was written
for members of Congress and was not made available to the
public. The Federation of American Scientists has posted a
copy on its website.

The report marked the latest installment in a recent debate
over the Bush administration's use of signing statements.

A signing statement is issued by the president as he signs a
bill into law. It describes his interpretation of the bill,
and it sometimes declares that one or more of the laws created
by the bill are unconstitutional and thus need not be enforced
or obeyed as written.

Signing statements date to the 19th century but were rare
until the 1980s. The Bush-Cheney administration has taken the
practice to unprecedented levels.

Bush has used signing statements to challenge more than 800
laws that place limits or requirements on the executive
branch, saying they intrude on his constitutional powers. By
contrast, all previous presidents challenged a combined total
of about 600 laws.

This year, The Boston Globe published a detailed accounting of
the laws Bush has claimed he has the power to disobey,
including a torture ban and oversight provisions in the USA
Patriot Act. The report prompted widespread concerns, but
critics have not been able to agree on precisely the nature of
the problem.

For example, the American Bar Association concluded that the
issue was the mechanism itself.

The American Bar Association called signing statements
``contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional
separation of powers." It said presidents cannot sign bills
and then declare parts of them unconstitutional because a
president has only two choices -- to sign a bill and enforce
it as written, or to veto it and give Congress a chance to
override the veto.

This year Arlen Specter , a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs
the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a hearing on signing
statements during which he accused the administration of
unconstitutionally trying to ``cherry-pick" bills, keeping
only the parts it likes.

At that hearing in June, Michelle Boardman , an administration
lawyer, defended the legality of signing statements. She said
statements are necessary because Congress often bundles many
different laws into a single bill, making it impractical to
veto the entire package because some parts are flawed.

``Signing statements serve a legitimate and important
function, and are not an abuse of power," Boardman testified.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006


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