Obama issues first signing statement

The president has repudiated some of George W. Bush's signing statements, but the one he released Wednesday was similar to some of his predecessors'.

Published March 11, 2009 8:30PM (EDT)

On Monday, President Obama repudiated many of his predecessor's signing statements -- attachments to legislation that give the president's take and, sometimes, his interpretation of certain portions of the law and whether he's obligated to actually follow them -- and issued a memo saying that under his watch, the use of the tactic would continue, but would be curbed. On Wednesday, Obama issued a signing statement of his own.

The statement, which accompanies the omnibus spending bill, looks a lot like some of the ones that former President Bush issued during his time in office. "The signing statement on the Omnibus bill very much resembles the kind that President Bush was criticized for,” CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller says.

In the statement, Obama expresses his Justice Department's view that certain portions of the omnibus are unconstitutional restraints on presidential power. Here's one such caveat:

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.

The issue of signing statements is a divisive one, with some people arguing the practice should be ended altogether. Others -- like Obama -- say they serve an important purpose, dealing with Constitutional issues that aren't by themselves a reason for the president to veto the bill altogether, but that Bush abused them.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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