Signing our lives away?

Normally, I tend to gloss over the political news I read, tucking away the general ideas in the back of my head, while not really focusing on the details like a staunch partisan would. I read a number of progressive news sites, and while I understand and agree with a lot of what they say and the angles they take, sometimes I find it hard to understand why they pick on smaller issues. However, the issue I read about today on Media Matters was difficult to gloss over.

Bush signing the USA Patriot Act renewalApparently, President Bush has found it within his range of powers to use what are known as “signing statements” to serve as a line-item veto for parts of legislation with which he does not agree (or, more strongly, which he will not obey). I wasn’t even familiar with this “power” until I read this bit of news.

According to this well-sourced Wikipedia entry, a signing statement can be used in one of three ways, the first two of which are not particularly meaningful. A “rhetorical” signing statement was historically the only type of signing statement, one in which the executive explains why that particular piece of legislation is good. A “political” signing statement, according to the entry, effectively says, “this law meets the need of our unions.” The third type is called “constitutional,” which has the effect of saying, “I’m passing this, but I won’t follow Section 2.”

The problem with this type of statement is that the President doesn’t have the authority to overrule parts of legislation that he/she doesn’t like. The Marbury v. Madison case in 1803 established that the judicial branch has that power. Cases such as Clinton v. City of New York (1998) effectively nullified line-item vetoes of that nature.

President Bush has now effectively made 750 such challenges to legislation, notably in regard to the McCain Detainee Amendment’s provisions against torture and the USA PATRIOT Act’s accountability requirements. The American Bar Association has taken note of his actions and has concluded that his continued use of these statements “weaken[s] our cherished system of checks and balances and separation of powers.”

Bush alone has used this so-called power more than all of the previous U.S. Presidents combined. Before the Reagan administration, only 75 signing statements had been issued in total. To me, this is just another example in a disturbing trend in the Executive Branch.

People who know me well know I’m not a Bush fan by any means, but I don’t see this as a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats, for all their differences, should be able to see that this trend must stop. This could certainly be a test for what has been labeled the “do-nothing” 109th Congress, to see if they can or will enact legislation to make the President more accountable for his actions.

And that, my friends, is the most ridiculous item of the day.

Linked in this post:
LA Times, networks, Fox News ignored ABA conclusion that Bush signing statements “weaken our cherished system of checks and balances and separation of powers” (Media Matters for America)
Signing Statement (Wikipedia)
Marbury v. Madison (usinfo.state.gov)
Clinton v. City of New York (oyez.org)
Blue-Ribbon Task Force Finds President Bush’s Signing Statements Undermine Separation of Powers (American Bar Association)

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