The Obama administration apparently has a new policy on signing statements — opinions that the president attaches to bills he is signing into law — that could have us longing for the days when presidents would, to the outrage of lots of folks including POGO, simply declare that provisions of laws passed by Congress were not applicable to the executive branch.
Now, as reported late last week in the New York Times, the Obama administration is effectively taking its disagreements with Congress off the radar. The White House explained that if it has previously indicated in a signing statement that the president would ignore a provision in a bill, a signing statement on a new but similar bill would not be necessary. Here's an example of how it works:
Last year the Obama administration disregarded a statute that forbid State Department officials to attend United Nations meetings led by nations deemed state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has included that restriction in several recent bills.
When Mr. Bush signed one such bill, he issued a signing statement instructing officials to view the law as merely advisory, and they attended at least one such meeting on his watch. By contrast, when Mr. Obama signed another bill with an identical provision, he did not specifically single it out for challenge. But his administration later obtained an Office of Legal Counsel opinion pronouncing it unconstitutional, and officials continued to attend such meetings.
Unlike signing statements, opinions from the Office of Legal Counsel are often secret.
This new approach doesn't just ignore one of our recommendations to the Obama administration — it completely violates the spirit behind it. Signing statements were bad enough, but at least with them we knew when the executive branch was abusing its powers — now, with mute disagreements and internal memos, it's possible that the public will be left completely in the dark.
-- Bryan Rahija