Saturday, April 16, 2011


There's a big brouhaha right now because President Obama issued a signing statement when he put his signature to the budget; the statement said Congress didn't have the right to legally limit his recourse to advisers whom the right sneeringly calls "czars," and he intends to ignore the restrictions. (The term "czars," of course, used to be a harmless bit of journalese, a quick way to refer to advisers to many previous presidents; in the Obama years, it's now the basis of a cynically spread thousand conspiracy theories.)

I'm not going to weigh in on Obama's use of signing statements after he denounced them during the campaign (though he didn't denounce them categorically -- he accused George W. Bush of abusing a legitimate presidential prerogative). I just want to point out that he's been doing this signing-statement thing since the start of presidency. Here's Charlie Savage (the reporter who broke the story of Bush's signing statements), writing in 2009:

President Obama has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions of bills enacted into law since he took office, provoking mounting criticism by lawmakers from both parties.

By early in 2010, he'd modified his strategy, as Savage noted:

In Mr. Obama's first months in office last year, he followed recent precedent and frequently issued statements, when signing bills into law, that the executive branch could disregard provisions that he considered unconstitutional restraints on executive power.

But Mr. Obama has not issued a signing statement since last summer, when one claim set off a bipartisan uproar in Congress. And the administration has decided that Mr. Obama will sometimes sign bills containing provisions it deems problematic without issuing a signing statement that challenges those sections.

Still, the administration will consider itself free to disregard new laws it considers unconstitutional, especially in cases where it has previously voiced objections elsewhere, officials said.

Is this bad? Argue amongst yourselves. But he's been expressing defiance of provisions of laws, with and without signing statements, for a while. So don't be shocked that he's doing it again.

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