In the Arena

Signing Statement Nonsense

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Several readers have pointed out that I’ve neglected to mention Bush’s disgraceful signing statement that accompanied the Defense Appropriations Act. Sorry. I meant to, but I’ve been caught up in deadline and distracted by politics. In any case, Dan Froomkin has a good summary here.
There is, it could be argued, a long and glorious tradition of Presidents defying Congress by choosing not to spend money that has been appropriated–not a bad thing, in most cases. But this signing statement seems in another category entirely. He is openly defying the Congress on matters of war and peace–especially with his refusal to rule out permanent US bases in Iraq. He is also defying Congress on matters of war, peace and cronyism–which is the only explanation for Bush’s refusal to accept the Commission, proposed by Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill, to investigate defense contracting procedures. (That work will go forward whether Bush likes it or not.)

This signing statement is a precursor to a another looming battle: Bush’s desire to sign, perhaps without Congressional approval, a long term security deal with the Iraqi government that would tie his succesor’s hands in the making of Iraq policy, specifically in terms of getting out. Hillary Clinton has argued that Bush is trying, yet again, to elide the Constitution by ignoring the Senate’s treaty ratification powers. My guess is that the next President will be able to extricate him- or herself from any Bush-brokered deal, but it would be an unnecessary and outrageous diplomatic mess. For a smart, fair-minded conservative view of Bush and Cheney’s extremism on executive powers, check out The Terror Presidency by Jack Goldsmith, the Justice Department lawyer who overturned the Bush Administration’s torture policies.