The "power" of a runaway president |

The "power" of a runaway president

While President Bush is the only president in modern times not to have used his veto power, he has ‘quietly’ chosen to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office. Through a device known as a “signing statement” a president can add a signing statement to any bill he has just signed into law. It details parts of the bill he deems unconstitutional and/or an infringement on his executive powers. The changed statute is then placed in the Federal Register ” without any publicity … without any debate.

As a comparison, George H. W. Bush challenged 232 statues over four years in office, and Bill Clinton objected to 140 laws over his eight years, according to Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio law professor.

One of the obvious results of an overuse of the signing statement besides public deception, is the upset it causes to the balance of powers as outlined in our constitution. We all learned in American History 1, the congress has the power to write the laws and the president must “faithfully execute these laws.”

Furthermore it is the judicial branch that interprets constitutionality ” not the chief executive. Unfortunately for us unsuspecting citizens, over 750 laws have been changed, pieces have been surgically removed and the remains are relegated to a quiet burial in the Federal Register.

The current “domestic spying” program is a good example of the disregard for written law by this president who admitted publicly that he has not gone to the FISA for wiretap warrants and doesn’t feel bound to get a warrant. Now we are discovering that the president and NSA have collected our domestic telephone calls in defiance of FCC regulations and telecommunication law. Perhaps the only way for the People to preserve our constitution (2nd and 4th amendments) is to file a class action law suit against the telephone companies since the Congress and the courts have failed to act. (A recent idea of Chris Mathews on Hardball.)

Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University professor who has studied the executive power, claims Bush made during his first term said, “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government. This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”

Charlie Savage in his article in the Boston Globe on April 30 explained how Bush has ignored at least four laws forbidding the use of the American troops from engaging in combat in Columbia. After signing the four bills into law, Bush in his signing statements wrote that he didn’t have to follow any of the Columbia restrictions since he is the commander and chief.

Bush then claimed he can also bypass Congress by diverting money from an authorized program to start a secret operation, such as the “black sites” to imprison suspected terrorists.

Like so many, I felt relieved and encouraged when the Congress finally passed important pieces of legislation dealing with “A Ban on Torturing Prisoners,” “Retraining” military prison guards, a new “Inspector General” for Iraq, and the “Whistle Blower” protection act designed to protect federal employees investigating the planned nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, supported by the administration but opposed by both Democratic and Republican senators from Nevada. All of these important pieces of legislation now have signing statements attached causing hardship and implied threats to those involved.

“A President who ignores the court, backed by a Republican controlled congress that is unwilling to challenge him, can make the Constitution simply disappear,” says David Golove, a NYU expert on the Constitution. The courts do not have the appetite to review Bush’s behavior, especially when it comes to issues of “national security.”

Is there anyway we can slow this president and is there any end in sight? Republican Senator Arlan Spector has been quoted recently as saying, “this fairly blatant violation of the separation of powers is a slap in the face of Congress, essentially to Congress’ power to write laws.” Lindsay Graham, a Republican, when discussing the “Ban on Torture” also has said that he doesn’t think an elected official, including the president, had the power to set aside a law that has been duly enacted.

In summary, we should all be aware of signing statements, the potential pernicious power it holds as well as the frequency it is utilized by any president. Our Congress is helpless at this point since it cannot override the signing statement, powerless to preserve the balance of power written into our Constitution. The signing statement now becomes the last word … laws that Congress has debated, passed by majority vote to become legislation … the law of the land … no longer exists intact after a signing statement ‘make-over.’

According to Charles Savage, “Signing statements pass without notice in the public, in the media, and the Congress. Nobody reads these things …

An informed public is the first step in reigning in a Run-Away president, a do-as-little-as-possible Congress, and a Supreme Court in the throes of change.

Daniel Peck lives in Nevada City

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