How Bush sidesteps intent of Congress
Instead of vetoing bills, he officially disregards portions with which he doesn't agree
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006
President Bush signed a military spending bill in December that included a hard-fought amendment banning the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of foreign prisoners. Then he put a statement in the Federal Register asserting his right to ignore the ban when necessary, in his judgment, to protect Americans from terrorism.
In March, Bush signed a renewal of search and surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act and said at a public ceremony that civil liberties would be protected by a series of new amendments. Then he quietly inserted another statement in the Federal Register that virtually nullified one of those amendments, a requirement that the administration report to Congress on the FBI's use of its powers under the Patriot Act to seize library, bookstore and business records.
Civics textbooks say presidents have two choices when Congress passes a bill that's not completely to their liking: They can sign it into law, or they can veto it and let Congress try to override them.
Bush, far more than any of his predecessors, is resorting to a third option: signing a bill while reserving the right to disregard any part of it that he considers an infringement on his executive authority or constitutional powers.
In more than five years in office, the president has never vetoed a bill. But while approving new laws, he has routinely issued signing statements interpreting the legislation in ways that amount to partial vetoes of provisions to which he objects.
White House spokesman Blair Jones insisted that Bush is not trying to undermine the lawmaking authority of Congress, and noted that many past presidents have issued statements on the meaning of bills they sign.
Presidential scholars, in fact, trace signing statements back to the early 19th century. But for much of the nation's history, they have been little more than bureaucratic memos instructing subordinates on the implementation of new laws. Bush has transformed them into declarations of executive supremacy.
The article goes on, but I don't want to wear you out. It is a beautiful day with the sun and light fog in play, a play that dances within. Feel the swirl in and out.