Obama Issues His First Signing Statement

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March 11, 2009 11:59 a.m.

The Obama administration has ordered a wide-ranging review of the signing statements that his predecessor frequently used to sidestep congressional edicts — but that’s not stopping the president from issuing one of his own.

After Obama signed the $410 spending bill that keeps the government funded until October, the White House released a statement outlining its take on the constitutionality of several of the bill’s provisions.

Perhaps the most notable portion of the statement gives Obama room to reallocate money as he sees fit without abiding by the spending bill’s requirement to first get approval from Congress:

Numerous provisions of the legislation purport to condition the authority of officers to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees. These are impermissible forms of legislative aggrandizement in the execution of the laws other than by enactment of statutes. Therefore, although my Administration will notify the relevant
committees before taking the specified actions, and will accord the recommendations of such committees all appropriate and serious consideration, spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees. Likewise, one
other provision gives congressional committees the power to establish guidelines for funding costs associated with implementing security improvements to buildings. Executive officials shall treat such guidelines as advisory.

Yet another provision requires the Secretary of the Treasury to accede to all requests of a Board of Trustees that contains congressional representatives. The Secretary shall treat such requests as nonbinding.

Late Update: A reader writes in to observe that the administration’s signing statement has constitutional precedent to back it up. I’m in no way suggesting that it doesn’t — merely pointing out that while Obama attempts to undo Bush’s past statements, he’s clearly reserving the right to defend executive power when he sees fit.

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