Bush sneaks in vetoes under a veil of formality

An article published in the latest issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly discusses how the Bush administration used a little-known policy tool of attaching presidential signing statements to bills to, in essence, veto them. The statements serve to increase presidential authority while rejecting that of Congress. Presidential signing statements alter specific provisions of legislation without sending bills back for possible veto overrides. This is as effective and substantive as a line-item veto and can nullify a range of statutory provisions even as a president signs the legislation that contained them into law.

While the present administration is not the first to use the presidential signing statements, it has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the statement to nullify and reposition the powers of the presidency to Congress. Author Phillip J. Cooper’s study of the first term of the Bush administration reveals wide-ranging and systematic use of the statements to yield and define exclusive authority.

Presidential statements, by definition, are pronouncements issued by the president when a congressional enactment is signed. In addition to providing general commentary, the statements provide the president’s interpretation of the language of the law, announce constitutional limits on the implementation of some of its provisions, and/or indicate directions on administering the new law in an acceptable manner. These statements inform the relevant agency head of the administration’s objections.

“That, of course, means that they are to act in the manner that the administration considers appropriate as compared to the way the legislation sets forth by policy,” Dr. Cooper explains. In taking advantage of this power, the president leaves Congress with few response options unless it is willing to pass entirely new legislation, which in turn would create a stronger veto threat.

From Presidential Studies Quarterly

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