By Dave Lindorff
Who’s minding the store in Washington?
While President George W. Bush was standing before the members of Congress on January 28 laying out his plans, such as they are, for the final year of his second term in the White House, he was also seriously and perhaps fatally undermining the authority of Congress with a new signing statement, attached to the latest National Defense Authorization Act, in which he declared that he would simply violate or fail to comply with four provisions.
Let me say that again. The president states in writing that he is not going to obey and will not be bound by four parts of a law duly passed by the Congress.
Just so you know that we’re not talking about the naming of a bridge or a new ship, the four provisions of the act which the president is going to ignore are:
* the establishment of a commission to investigate contractor fraud in Afghanistan and Iraq
* the protection or whistleblowers who report contractor fraud from harassment or official retribution
* a requirement that US intelligence agencies respond to Congressional requests for documents
* a ban on funding for any permanent military bases in Iraq, and on any actions that would seek to give the US control over Iraq’s oil resources or oil money.
Now first of all, let’s see what the constitution has to say. Article I, the first actual statement about how our government works, which comes right after the preamble about “We the People,” states unambiguously:
“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
It goes on to state that:
“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections, to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration by two thirds of that House shall agree to apss the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law…If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it.”
Note that there is no asterisk or footnote saying anything about the president having the power to simply ignore those legislative powers or to violate them at will. If he does not veto the entire bill—and in this case he did not, he signed it—it becomes the Law of the Land.
Article I also defines the powers of the Congress expansively, stating that it has the power to lay and collect taxes, to regulate commerce, to coin money, to declare war, ro call forth the militia, and
“to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States or in any Department or Officer thereof.”
Article II goes on to define the powers of the president. It states:
“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
It goes on to explicitly define and limit the president’s powers, specifically to being “commander in chief” of the armed forces (not of the country or of the government!), to the granting of reprieves and pardons (except in the case of impeachments), to making treaties (subject to Senate approval) and appointing officers to the cabinet and the courts (all subject to Senate approval).