Among the more audacious displays of George W. Bush fantasies of executive power was the explosion in his use of presidential “signing statements” to interpose constitutional objections to congressional bills that he was actually signing into law.
Between 1789 and 1981, our first 39 presidents found a total of 101 provisions of 92 separate statutes worthy of this particular form of complaint. Bush, in just his first six years of office, objected to around 1000 statutory provisions, many on multiple grounds. Either the Republican-dominated Congress went haywire in trying to curtail the prerogatives of this particular Republican President – a pretty unlikely hypothesis – or other motives were afoot.
In his first six months in office, President Obama has also issued a fistful of these signing statements – five to be exact. They actually raise nine different constitutional objections, although the number of statutory provisions affected goes somewhat beyond that. In one such statement, for example, the President observes: “Numerous provisions of the legislation purport to condition the authority of officers to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees.” Such provisions are plainly unconstitutional after Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha.
Some Obama critics or Bush defenders have been quick to say that the Obama signing statements duplicate the Bush Administration’s practices. But there are three hugely interesting things to note about the Obama statements, which suggest we are not seeing Bush 43 redux: