Monday, December 3, 2007

Just So Long As I'm The Dictator

Email|Print| Text size + By Charlie Savage Globe Staff / December 1, 2007

WASHINGTON - President Bush this month issued his first signing statement since the Democratic takeover of Congress, reserving the right to bypass 11 provisions in a military appropriations bill under his executive powers.

In the statement, which the White House filed in the Federal Register on Nov. 13 but which initially attracted little attention, Bush challenged several requirements to provide information to Congress.

For example, one law Bush targeted requires him to give oversight committees notice before transferring US military equipment to United Nations peacekeepers.

Bush also challenged a new law that limits his ability to transfer funds lawmakers approved for one purpose to start a different program, as well as a law requiring him to keep in place an existing command structure for the Navy's Pacific fleet.

"The Act contains certain provisions identical to those found in prior bills passed by the Congress that might be construed to be inconsistent with my Constitutional responsibilities," Bush's statement says.

"To avoid such potential infirmities, I will interpret and construe such provisions in the same manner as I have previously stated in regard to those provisions."

By referring only to objections voiced in past documents, Bush's new signing statement struck a less aggressive tone than those he issued during the years when his own party controlled Congress.

In the past, Bush's assertion that he could bypass laws was backed by the invocation of broad theories laying out the scope of a president's power to defy congressional statutes.

In a further sign that the White House adopted a muted tone, the new signing statement also said nothing about two higher-profile provisions in the bill that limit presidential power: One law prohibits the military from using foreign intelligence information that was collected illegally, and the other forbids expending funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq.

As lawmakers drafted the bill earlier this year, the White House warned Congress that the illegal intelligence and Iraq-base provisions "impermissibly" infringed "on the president's constitutional authority" over national security and foreign affairs.

But Congress kept the provisions in the final bill and Bush's statement did not mention them.

Analysts said the president's less aggressive tone may be an effort to avoid reigniting a controversy that erupted last year after it came to light that Bush had used signing statements to challenge more laws than all previous presidents combined - including a torture ban. Congress held hearings about signing statements and the American Bar Association called for an end to them.

"They have clearly edited themselves," said Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio who first analyzed the new statement on his blog Thursday. "They've taken out all the rhetoric about executive power."

But Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, denied that there was any "public relations" motive behind the change. Shorter signing statements, he said, are "just easier."

"It's been said," Fratto said. "It's our position and it hasn't changed."


And wingnuts call Hugo Chavez a dictator.

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