No doubt about it: The story that Friday's Boston Globe reported about the President's March 9 signing into law of two different bills authorizing new versions of the frightening USA Patriot Act, while adding "an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers" ("Bush shuns Patriot Act requirement," Charlie Savage, March 24), was pretty important. For all of the "oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers," as the Globe pointed out, Bush countermanded them with a statement that flat-out rejected their applicability to the Executive Branch.
Still. It also was pretty old news. As the Bush Administration has been employing this so-called signing statement apparatus all along.
There is nothing constitutionally or legally sublime about it. Any given law the President signs very well may state A, B, C,….
But—so what? The President can do A or not-A; B or not-B; C or not-C;….
The real question is: And who's gonna stop him?
Besides. Here's exactly how Bush put the matter on March 9, reaffirming the executive privileges of god-only-knows how many other signing statements to date ("President's Statement on H.R. 199, 'USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005';"):
Today, I have signed into law H.R. 3199, the "USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005," and then S. 2271, the "USA PATRIOT Act Additional Reauthorizing Amendments Act of 2006." The bills will help us continue to fight terrorism effectively and to combat the use of the illegal drug methamphetamine that is ruining too many lives.
The executive branch shall construe the provisions of H.R. 3199 that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch, such as sections 106A and 119, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties.
The executive branch shall construe section 756(e)(2) of H.R. 3199, which calls for an executive branch official to submit to the Congress recommendations for legislative action, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for the consideration of the Congress such measures as he judges necessary and expedient.
GEORGE W. BUSH
The only difference between this one, and so many of the President's other, more public statements, is that this one lacked the canned "Applause" and climactic "God Bless."
As far as I know, one-hundred percent of the bills that the President has signed into law have been accompanied by assertions of executive omnipotence such as this. But—who's counting?
Proclamations, to be more precise. Edicts. Decrees. Commandments.
"La Loi, c'est moi," as one commentator put it some months back, echoing Louis XIV.
Indeed. I've dealt with topics such as these a bunch of times.
Postscript (April 30): More invaluable work by Charlie Savage:
"Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws," Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, April 30, 2006