In marked contrast to vows as a candidate not to use presidential signing statements as “an end run around Congress,” President Obama released a statement on the just-signed spending bill saying despite the law’s restrictions on “czars,” he will “construe” the law not to interfere with “presidential prerogatives.”
The move is an aggressive power play by Obama to gain an added advantage from the deal struck a week ago between the president, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to narrowly avert government shutdown.
The legislation prohibits government money being spent on four Obama “czars,” newly created positions with far-reaching sway over federal agencies but facing no confirmation vote in the Senate.
However, some of the czars banned in the bill have already stepped down, and it is unclear whether replacements will be appointed.
Obama in his signing statement says the provision in the legislation prohibiting funding for the salaries of the four czars runs afoul of the president’s “well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority.”
The signing statement vaguely refers to an constitutional line that might have been crossed.
“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 by undermining the President’s ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” the statement says.
“Therefore, the executive branch will construe section 2262 not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives,” the statement says.
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said “It’s not surprising that the White House, having bypassed Congress to empower these ‘Czars’ is objecting to eliminating them.”
As a candidate for president in 2008, Obama blasted former President George W. Bush for his aggressive use of signing statements to alter how laws would be implemented after he signed them.
“Congress’s job is to pass legislation. The president can veto it, or he can sign it. But what George Bush has been trying to do as part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency, is he’s been saying ‘Well, I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying, I don’t agree with this part, or I don’t agree with that part. I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way,’” Obama said.
“That’s not part of his power. But this is part of the whole theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he’s going along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for ten years. I believe in the Constitution. And I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress,” Obama said.
The signing statement on the spending bill, H.R. 1473, also contains a long section on the law’s provisions on Guantanamo Bay, which generally ban Obama from closing the prison there.
Obama says in the statement the provisions could harm “national security” by interfering with “delicate negotiations.”
However, rather than assert presidential power to invalidate those parts of the law, the signing statement only says Obama will work to repeal them and will seek to “mitigate their effects.”