Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 30, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SIGNING STATEMENT FRENZY....George Bush's signing statement frenzy has now reached epic proportions:

President Bush this week declared that he has the power to bypass four laws, including a prohibition against using federal funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq, that Congress passed as part of a new defense bill.

....One section Bush targeted created a statute that forbids spending taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."

The Bush administration is negotiating a long-term agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The agreement is to include the basing of US troops in Iraq after 2008, as well as security guarantees and other economic and political ties between the United States and Iraq.

As recently as a year ago the White House at least acknowledged that Congress had the power to defund military activities if it wished. In fact, their argument, essentially, was that funding was pretty much the only power Congress had over military and foreign policy. Now, apparently, they think Congress doesn't even have that.

Kevin Drum 7:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

Apparently, Kevin doesn't understand the meaning of 'commander in chief'. Civilian control of the military is vested in the President.

Posted by: Al on January 30, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Al apparently doesn't know the meaning of "power of the purse." The Founders rejected the model of the unfettered leader with unlimited military power, and expressly constrained the powers of the commander in chief by awarding the power of the purse to Congress.

My 6th grader learned that this year. You need to catch up Al.

Posted by: Cheney's Third Nipple on January 30, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Be happy for him, he just learned to sign his name, and now he's been signing everything since...

Posted by: Boorring on January 30, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

I assume Al's joking. If you're not, Al, then no, George Bush does not get to do whatever he wants with the military if the Congress refuses to fund that activity. The Constitution doesn't waste words, and if there was no meaning to Congress' power to declare war, it wouldn't have been included.

But for Bush's part, why wouldn't he do this? He wants to, and its unlikely that Congress is going to make him not do it. Or the press, or whoever. So why not?

The one absolute of this administration has been that if they simply declare they need to do something for security's sake, and never show any shame about thin that claim is, they can get away with it.

Posted by: JoshA on January 30, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush makes an agreement on his own authority, I would think his successor could abrogate the agreement on her authority.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 30, 2008 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Question for the Lawyers?

who has standing to sue?

Can any citizen or ngo sue over these signing statements? Can Congress?

Posted by: jimmy on January 30, 2008 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

I wish that there were a White House reporter with the nerve to read the following text from the Constitution:

"No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law"

and ask the preznit just how the hell he thinks he can spend money on establishing a permanent presence in Iraq, in defiance of Congress. Where will he get the money from?

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 30, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Good thing Bush wasn't around when the Constitution was signed. Oh wait, I guess he considers that document optional as well.

Posted by: Bush Lover on January 30, 2008 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin, if the President and the White House legal staff believe that part of a Cngressional act is unconstiutional, what would you have them do?

Just sign it anyway?

Veto it?

Take it straight to the Supreme Court?

I'd really be fascinated to see you actually take this on in good faith. But you won't. You never do.

Posted by: a on January 30, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Small chikdren need to be told "No" every once in a while, or they'll never learn.

Somebody need to tell George a great big "NO!"

Posted by: Robert Earle on January 30, 2008 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'd really be fascinated to see you actually take this on in good faith. But you won't. You never do.

I think the founders would have had nothing but contempt for anyone who thought we're supposed to just accept that the executive is always operating in good faith. We fought an armed insurrection against another guy named George who thought that was an appropriate way to operate.

Posted by: jimBOB on January 30, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

Bush thinks the Constitution is unconstitutional. Inconvenient, at least.

Posted by: AJ on January 30, 2008 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Tell me again why we didn't impeach him?

Posted by: Callimaco on January 30, 2008 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Tell me again why we didn't impeach him?

Because the 'conventional wisdom' thought it would look tacky.

Posted by: charles on January 30, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Do you really think Bush and the boys are going to leave come January 20, 2009? These guys don't believe in the Constitution. It is just a short step for one of them to say "Fuck The Constitution, WE ARE NOT GOING."

Posted by: corpus juris on January 30, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Once again I'd like to offer my support to whichever Dem candidate for POTUS promises to choke the life out of Bush and Cheney with their bare hands upon entering the WH next January.

Posted by: Disputo on January 30, 2008 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo,

Why wait till next January? That's still a year away!

Posted by: drjimcooper on January 30, 2008 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin, if the President and the White House legal staff believe that part of a Cngressional act is unconstiutional, what would you have them do?

Veto it. It's the president's job to veto bills he doesn't like.

Maybe you and George can read the Constitution together. I think you'd be surprised at what's in there.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 30, 2008 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

Since several trolls seem to have missed both "Schoolhouse Rock" and 8th grade government class, perhaps this will explain what Bush is supposed to do if he doesn't like a bill. (Hint: starts with a "v," ends with an "o.")

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 30, 2008 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

corpus juris: These guys don't believe in the Constitution.

No offense, but you state the obvious.

It is just a short step for one of them to say "Fuck The Constitution, WE ARE NOT GOING."

True, but I suspect that fortunately most of our military personnel take their oath to the Constitution more seriously than Dick and his front man George take their's.

Posted by: alex on January 30, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

The extensive use of signing statements to override the intent of congress started not with GWB but with Reagan. Reagan and Bush 41 together produced 347 signing statements, whereas GWB has produced 157 so far.

More interestingly, the legal genius behind the new Republican use of signing statement was not Addington, as has often been mentioned, but Samuel Alito.

Wikipedia:

The upswing in the use of signing statements during the Reagan administration coincides with the writing by Samuel A. Alito – then a staff attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel – of a 1986 memorandum making the case for "interpretive signing statements" as a tool to "increase the power of the Executive to shape the law." Alito proposed adding signing statements to a "reasonable number of bills" as a pilot project, but warned that "Congress is likely to resent the fact that the President will get in the last word on questions of interpretation."
Posted by: JS on January 30, 2008 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

What ever happened to Article II ???

"He [the president] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur"

Per the Constitution, Bush II doesn't have the power to unilaterally cut a deal with Iraq... let alone claim the power to circumvent congress on funding it.

We are sooooo screwed. Impeach now.

Posted by: Buford on January 30, 2008 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

A corollary of the above is that the Supreme Court is not likely to be of help on this issue.

Posted by: JS on January 30, 2008 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

JS --

You have made my case. No matter who gets the Democratic nomination we have to do everything we can to ensure the Democratic candidate wins even if he or her isn't your favorite. Our Democracy can't handle another Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

Alex, I hope and suspect you are right.

Posted by: corpus juris on January 30, 2008 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush makes an agreement on his own authority, I would think his successor could abrogate the agreement on her authority

I think what Slavish McFollower is trying to say here is that since Bush is making an agreement on pretend authority, that all it takes is the next president to pretend they have the authority as well and revoke it.

That way inconvenient obstacles can be circumvented in favor of political and ideological expediency at the mere expense of the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution.

Dictators have a long history of using this approach. Boobs have a long history of supporting it.

Find another interesting post on this issue here.

Posted by: trex on January 30, 2008 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

Good God. This is like living a bad dream Impeach the arrogant cocksucker and be done with him.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 30, 2008 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Also of interest is that Alito originally thought that Congress might fight back, and he suggested a "pilot project" to see if signing statements could fly. Evidently, Congress did not react violently and now, with hundreds of signing statements over three administrations and for more that 20 years, we seem to have a legal precedent.

Another reason why Congress should be more activist and nip unconstitutional executive initiatives in the bud.

Posted by: JS on January 30, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

To be technical, the reservation on spending isn't about signing statements; it's about Nixon's theory of impoundment. It's the notion that the exec agencies don't have to spend money as Congress directs them.

Since Bush's team is heavily staffed by Nixon refugees (from Cheney all the way down), this isn't especially surprising.

Posted by: jpe on January 30, 2008 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

we have to do everything we can to ensure the Democratic candidate wins even if he or her isn't your favorite.

Sure -- but the sad thing is that Democratic congresses, both in the 1980s and recently, have been taking all this without a fight. Even Alito, according to the earlier quote, expected such a fight from Congress -- but it never happened.

Posted by: JS on January 30, 2008 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently Chimpy think there's some sort of Divine Right of Kings involved with his office.

That crap got old even in England. Charles I found out the hard way.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on January 30, 2008 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

People who support illegal immigration have no moral authority to complain about others.

Posted by: Luther on January 30, 2008 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

If only the authors of the Constitution provided a tool for the legislative branch to check serious abuses of power by the executive branch.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on January 30, 2008 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

Luther,

Who supports illegal immigration? Near as I can tell the only people who support illegal immigration are members of the Business Round Table and other economic "conservatives."

Posted by: corpus juris on January 30, 2008 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

What fucking country do I live in?

Posted by: dp on January 30, 2008 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Fuck George Bush.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 30, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

I've never replied here before.

but, the democrats are just as guilty as the republicans. They are in the pocket of the corporate money just like the powers that be. They vote and let pass everything GWB wants. They are a bunch of pussies and should be gone just like him. Get rid of them all.

Posted by: eloise on January 30, 2008 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

If only the authors of the Constitution provided a tool for the legislative branch to check serious abuses of power by the executive branch.

Impeachment? Isn't the overriding of congressional bills with a say-so (rather than a veto which could be defeated) a high misdemeanor?

Posted by: JS on January 30, 2008 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not worried about it. I am certain that one of our leaders (if not both), either Leader Clinton or Leader Obama will put their foot down and make this an issue. And if our two Leaders don't do this, then I am certain it really wasn't an issue at all.

Posted by: jerry on January 30, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Really, Bush is daring Congress to impeach him, and stating that for all intent and purposes when a condition of "war" exists the President is an elected monarch. The way he addresses the Congress is remarkably similar to the way Tudor and Stuart monarchs addressed their parliaments, as subjects who needed to obey his commands or else stand condemned as traitors. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, along with all the others who felt "freedom" was more important then "safety" and risked their lives, fortunes, and "sacred honor" for it must be spinning in their graves.

Posted by: rickstersherpa on January 30, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

And there are so many trolls like "Al" who prefer an Empire of fear to a republic. They are so afraid. Of Muslims, of brown, Spainish speaking people, of appearing unmanly.

Next Tuesday, it will probably be pretty clear that we will be in a McCain v. Clinton race. Not a pretty picture. McCain talks about staying in Iraq a 1,000 years. If she was to win, the Clintons are likely to seize the precedents created by Bush and run with them in regard to the transition of the Presidency into a monarchy. McCain, likely to win because he is not Hilary, is imprisioned by the Conservative cant of the last 30 years regarding government and the economy. Neither party's candidate will be able to revive the American dream as FDR did seventy years ago, when he laid the ground work for the great post-war boom. It seems,in regard to the U.S., that those who the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

Posted by: rickstersherpa on January 30, 2008 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, along with all the others who felt "freedom" was more important then "safety" and risked their lives, fortunes, and "sacred honor" for it must be spinning in their graves.

To wit, here is the very first complaint against King George laid out by these men you mention in the Declaration of Independence:

"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

George W. Bush has put his pen to paper and testified close to a thousand times that he refuses to assent to laws passed by Congress.

Posted by: trex on January 30, 2008 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Presidential candidate Mike Gravel has announced his support for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

Posted by: Lucy on January 30, 2008 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Does Congress' power of the purse include maintaining the White House?

Posted by: don'tknow on January 30, 2008 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

no, see, you all don't understand. Unlike you traitorous liberals, KBR feels so strongly about national defense that they are going to build these bases for free! Halliburton will supply them, gratis! And our soldiers, unlike you pansyass wimps, will man them, for free! They care about...oh wait, they won't? Well, they all better, cause there ain't no one authorized to pay them.

Posted by: northzax on January 30, 2008 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

News at 11: Today, Brittany Spears blah blah blah... In other news, George W. Bush wiped his ass with the Constitution. Now on to sports...

Sometime around the middle of September, another "unforeseen" tragedy will undoubtedly strike the USA. The current regime will declare a state of emergency - threat level RED - and "temporarily" postpone the November election. (Recall, if you will, that in 2004 Tom Ridge suggested that there were scenarios in which holding an election might not be appropriate. Consider that a test balloon.) And thus began the imperial regency of King George I of the United States.

Meanwhile, Congress will debate the wisdom of starting impeachment hearings during a time of national crisis. The most vocal proponents of impeachment will be executed as traitors in a special ceremony on the National Mall.

Won't it be great when Jenna ascends to the throne in 2020?

Posted by: josef on January 31, 2008 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

With a spineless Congress like today's, Iran-Contra could have been pooh-poohed away with a few of these "signing statements".

It's going to be fun to watch the wingnuts' heads explode if President Obama ever needs to whip one out.

Posted by: melior on January 31, 2008 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

Most people don't know that Congress can DISBAND the whole military; Army, Navy, Air Force, everything about the military. Everything!

Maybe not a bad idea.

Dumb old Bush is Commander-in-Chief of what Congress allows him to have when it comes to the military.

Posted by: James on January 31, 2008 at 4:26 AM | PERMALINK

In remaining inert on the issue of signing statements, the shameful Congress is setting the prececent of ceding its authority. In my most paranoid moments, I see Bush suspending the election in November and Congress saying, "Oh. OK, fine, whatever you say, Mr. Bush."

Posted by: Helena Montana on January 31, 2008 at 4:37 AM | PERMALINK

This is the result of Pelosi's declaration that impeachment is off the table, any hint of restraint has vanished from this criminal administration.

Posted by: joe on January 31, 2008 at 4:47 AM | PERMALINK

I'm reminded of Joan Dideon's piece in the NYRB last year on Cheney and the imperial presidency. It's behind a subscription wall, but here's an excerpt.

The question of where the President gets the notions known to the nation as "I'm the decider" and within the White House as "the unitary executive theory" leads pretty fast to the blackout zone that is the Vice President and his office....Signing statements are not new, but at the time Bill Clinton left office, the device had been used, by the first forty-two presidents combined, fewer than six hundred times. George W. Bush, by contrast, issued more than eight hundred such takebacks during the first six years of his administration. Those who object to this or any other assumption of absolute executive power are reflexively said by those who speak for the Vice President to be "tying the president's hands," or "eroding his ability to do his job," or, more ominously, "aiding those who don't want him to do his job."
Posted by: Lucy on January 31, 2008 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK
Good God. This is like living a bad dream Impeach the arrogant cocksucker and be done with him.

Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence.
We have no assurance that we'll be done with him after impeachment.

Posted by: kenga on January 31, 2008 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

corpus juris wrote: "Do you really think Bush and the boys are going to leave come January 20, 2009? These guys don't believe in the Constitution. It is just a short step for one of them to say Fuck The Constitution, WE ARE NOT GOING."

Cheney and Bush will leave office and a new president and vice president will be sworn in on January 20, 2009.

Cheney and Bush are merely servants of America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. The current political and economic system serves the ruling class very well, and they have no desire to destabilize that system with the upheaval that would result from Cheney and Bush cancelling the election and effectively declaring an open dictatorship.

There is a reason why dictators like Musharaff in Pakistan want to wear a civilian suit and be called "President" and be "elected" to office, instead of wearing an army uniform and being called "General" and ruling by overt force: it's good for business. And there is good reason for the corporate dictatorship that rules America to want to preserve the appearance of a democratic republic operating under the Constitution.

And in any case, it seems likely that McCain/Huckabee will poll close enough to Clinton or Obama to steal the general election as the Republicans did in 2000 and 2004, and will be sworn in next January, and they are just as reliable servants of the military-industrial corporatocracy as Cheney and Bush.

And for that matter, Fortune magazine, in a cover story last year, described Hillary Clinton as the favored candidate of big business, and her campaign is heavily funded by the corporatocracy. America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. would be perfectly comfortable with a Clinton presidency, which they anticipate would pursue the corporate-friendly policies of Bill Clinton's administration, even if it reined in the most extreme rapaciousness of the Cheney/Bush policies.

So the good news is that we probably don't need to worry about Cheney and Bush cancelling the election, suspending the Constitution, and declaring open dictatorship. The bad news is that the reason we needn't fear that, is that the existing corporate dictatorship that operates through the appearance of Constitutional government is going to continue no matter who is the next President.

The best we can hope for is that the next administration will be less reckless, less corrupt and indeed blatantly criminal, less driven by imperialistic hubris, less beholden to racists and religious extremists, less driven by shortsighted greed, more inclined to the "compassionate conservatism" of the Clinton years that gave somewhat more consideration to the well-being of ordinary people as a key component of the social contract that enables the rich to accumulate and retain ever more wealth and power.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 31, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,

enables the rich to accumulate and retain ever more wealth and power.

Without something really drastic like the Depression I fear what you say is inevitable.

It is interesting that the free-market worshipers know nothing about the computer simulations of a perfect, free market.

What happens, every time, is that somebody, by luck and random chance, gets an early lead which gives them an advantage and which only increases their lead, increasing their advantage. Eventually that person has ALL the money. Of course at that time the trading stops because there is no one left to trade with.

To me that is one of the best arguments for requiring the leaders to take a portion of their money and distribute it to the losers. It keeps the game going. it also keeps the peasants from revolting.

Posted by: Tripp on January 31, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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