Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, Congress passed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill (H.R. 1105, formally titled “Making omnibus appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes.”). And, as usual, that appropriations bill was FILLED with pork.
Before I get into details about President Obama, I’d like to briefly comment on the vote on the bill. The cloture vote passed 62-35. I’d like to commend Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) for voting against it; however, I am disappointed in Senators Andrew Alexander (R-TN), Kit Bond (R-MO), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) for voting for it.
It’s not that I’m against spending; I’m against all these earmarks, and I think that the Senate should have rejected this bill (especially the Republicans) and demanded that some of the pork be taken out.
Now, how does this relate to President Obama?
Well, last year during the campaign, Obama said, “We can no longer accept a process that doles out earmarks based on a member of Congress’ seniority, rather than the merit of the project. We can no longer accept an earmarks process that has become so complicated to navigate that a municipality or non-profit group has to hire high-priced D.C. lobbyists to do it.”
And according to his website, he wanted to cut earmarks down: “Cut Pork Barrel Spending:Obama introduced and passed bipartisan legislation that would require more disclosure and transparency for special-interest earmarks. Obama and Biden believe that spending that cannot withstand public scrutiny cannot be justified. Obama and Biden will slash earmarks to no greater than year 1994 levels and ensure all spending decisions are open to the public.”
So, Mr. Obama, I’m sorry, but so far, this isn’t much “change we can believe in.”
Now, the signing statements. I’m sure many of you remember that President Bush was criticized for his massive use of signing statements (where he says, “______________ part of this bill is unconstitutional” – it’s somewhat similar to a line-item veto, but not as legally binding [there are other uses for signing statements, such as defining vague terms in the bill, but the majority of the time they're used, it's for constitutional/unconstitutional issues]). Well, Bush overused the signing statements, and Obama criticized him on it, as did the media. The media was VERY crucial of his use of signing statements, and many Democrats and liberals claimed that they didn’t think signing statements were even legal.
Ironically, Obama’s signing statements came just two days after the President ordered a review on all of President Bush’s signing statements.
The White House released a press release on the signing of H.R. 1105, including the 5 signing statements for H.R. 1105:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 11, 2009
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
Today I have signed into law H.R. 1105, the “Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009.” This bill completes the work of last year by providing the funding necessary for the smooth operation of our Nation’s Government.
As I announced this past Monday, it is a legitimate constitutional function, and one that promotes the value of transparency, to indicate when a bill that is presented for Presidential signature includes provisions that are subject to well-founded constitutional objections. The Department of Justice has advised that a small number of provisions of the bill raise constitutional concerns.
- Foreign Affairs. Certain provisions of the bill, in titles I and IV of Division B, title IV of Division E, and title VII of Division H, would unduly interfere with my constitutional authority in the area of foreign affairs by effectively directing the Executive on how to proceed or not proceed in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments. I will not treat these provisions as limiting my ability to negotiate and enter into agreements with foreign nations.
- United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. Section 7050 in Division H prohibits the use of certain funds for the use of the Armed Forces in United Nations peacekeeping missions under the command or operational control of a foreign national unless my military advisers have recommended to me that such involvement is in the national interests of the United States. This provision raises constitutional concerns by constraining my choice of particular persons to perform specific command functions in military missions, by conditioning the exercise of my authority as Commander in Chief on the recommendations of subordinates within the military chain of command, and by constraining my diplomatic negotiating authority. Accordingly, I will apply this provision consistent with my constitutional authority and responsibilities.
- Executive Authority to Control Communications with the Congress. Sections 714(1) and 714(2) in Division D prohibit the use of appropriations to pay the salary of any Federal officer or employee who interferes with or prohibits certain communications between Federal employees and Members of Congress. I do not interpret this provision to detract from my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential.
- Legislative Aggrandizements (committee-approval requirements). 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.
- Recommendations Clause Concerns. Several provisions of the Act (including sections 211 and 224(b) of title II of Division I, and section 713 in Division A), effectively purport to require me and other executive officers to submit budget requests to the Congress in particular forms. Because the Constitution gives the President the discretion to recommend only “such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, section 3 of the Constitution), the specified officers and I shall treat these directions as precatory.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
March 11, 2009.
Now, it did surprise me when he said that “it is a legitimate constitutional function.” I’m curious as to whether he meant that it’s constitutional (as in legal under the Constitution”) or that it’s actually set down in the Constitution. Because if he thinks it’s the latter, he’s utterly wrong.
Personally, I’ve never studied signing statements enough to be certain, but generally looking at them, I think they’re constitutionally legal when not overused and not used to circumvent other provisions of the Constitution. So, I have no problem with Obama using them, I’m just kinda shocked that he used them 2 days after demanding a review on ALL of President Bush’s signing statements. I’m also angry (but not surprised) at the media for not saying much about it.
Still, these 2 things (especially the earmarks) show me that we’re just in for “more of the same,” and that I won’t be seeing much “change we can believe in.”