Constitutional scholar Obama on signing statements

The silly old Constitution no longer means what it seemed to during the reign of King George The Brute.

In 2008 (my how time flies), Candidate Obama rejected presidential signing statements, i.e., signing into law a bill passed by the Congress but saying he won't abide by the parts he doesn't like. Signing statements are in essence unlawful line item vetoes of congressional enactments.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: When Congress offers you a bill, do you promise not to use presidential signings to get your way?

OBAMA: "Yes... This is part of the whole theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he is going along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for 10 years. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We are not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress. All right?"

Either President Obama wasn't paying attention when the "professor" (OK, non-tenured lecturer) applauded the Constitution and promised to abide by it, or this is just one of his legion of "forgotten" commitments. On April 15th (normally "tax day" to all the little people), he coupled signing a bill with a signing statement. The bill had been a result of contentious negotiations over funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011 and had lots of stuff in it; some made it through the negotiations, some did not.

The budget bill that passed Congress Thursday also included a provision to defund a number of White House czars -- the high-level presidential appointees whose ranks have swelled in recent decades as a means of skirting Senate confirmation hearings.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) may be forced to rely on Democrats to pass the bill. Conservative Republicans argue that it does not adequately cut programs and services.

"Make no mistake: I oppose this negotiated deal," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, said on Twitter. She wanted deeper cuts and conservative policy priorities, including elimination of funds for family planning and the healthcare overhaul.

Although the legislation as passed by the Congress defunded several czars, House Speaker Boehner and other Republicans anticipated and got some tongue-lashings over the negotiated bill as passed, but according to the signing statement, President Obama plans to ignore those parts which defund czars for health care, climate change, urban affairs and auto-industry affairs. If nothing else, this "presidential" reaction may stiffen a few Republican backbones.

"The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority," Obama wrote in a message to Congress. "The President also has the prerogative to obtain advice that will assist him in carrying out his constitutional responsibilities, and do so not only from executive branch officials and employees outside the White House, but also from advisers within it.

"Legislative efforts that significantly impede the President's ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers," he added. "Therefore, the executive branch will construe [the law as to] not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives."

At least Humpty Dumpty the wordsmith has a good job at the White House.  Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution states, "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." Traditionally, appropriations bills arise in the House of Representatives. In any event, no bill can pass without the approval of both houses. President Obama might be able keep his czars if they worked for free and didn't consume government resources provided through the appropriations process. However, that doesn't seem to be an option since the White House issued a statement in anticipation of a government shutdown that "Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an employee."

By attempting to vitiate congressional defunding of his initiatives, President Obama has once again stomped on what he appears to believe is the corpse of the Constitution. This, as well as his foundering bipartisanship, will likely heat up the battle during negotiations over the fiscal 2012 budget if not over extending federal borrowing limits, probably a good thing. Here's what Mr. Boehner seems to think about that:

In selling this week's spending cut vote to his members, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) touted the fact that he was able to get the White House to agree to a rider defunding four “czars.”

Obama pulled the rug out from under that provision on Friday by issuing a signing statement that said in accordance with the separation of powers he will continue to employ advisers as he sees fit.

Boehner's office is not surprised Obama found a way to circumvent Congress, according to a staffer. (emphasis added)

Absent a deepening Stockholm Syndrome or the enabling tendency of an abused spouse, a well founded but belated sense of distrust of the White House by House Republicans means that Poor Vice President Biden has his work cut out as chief White House deficit reduction negotiator. So, of course, does poor Mr. Boehner.