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Bush Signs Defense Authorization Bill and Claims Right to Violate It
White House Criticizes Defense Authorization Bill In Signing Statement
By John M. Donnelly, CQ Today
President Bush signed the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization bill into law Monday, but not before stating that he reserves the right to disregard several sections.
One such provision sets up a commission to probe contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another expands protections for whistleblowers who work for government contractors. A third requires that U.S. intelligence agencies promptly respond to congressional requests for documents. And a fourth bars funding for permanent bases in Iraq and for any action that exercises U.S. control over Iraq’s oil money.
Bush, in a signing statement accompanying the bill (HR 4986), said the provisions at issue “purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief. The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president.”
Such signing statements are not new, but experts have said Bush has used them more frequently than his predecessors to assert what he believes are his prerogatives as president.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Bush was not above the law.
“I think he’ll need to obey the law,” said Carl Levin, D-Mich. “The courts have ruled that the president cannot pick and choose provisions of appropriations bills that they want to comply with.”
The White House did not respond to a request for further explanation of Bush’s statement.
The first statute Bush considers optional is a provision written by Democratic senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri that would set up a latter-day version of the Truman Committee to look into “waste, fraud and abuse” in contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. One area of inquiry would be private security contractors such as Blackwater Worldwide.
Another section Bush said he might waive would tighten protections from reprisals for contractor employees who disclose what they reasonably believe to be misconduct.
Bush also singled out a section requiring intelligence agencies to provide the Armed Services committees, within 45 days, copies of existing documents the panels have requested. The only exception to the deadline would be if the administration asserts executive privilege.
Finally, the president said he reserves the right to disregard a provision barring funding for bases or installations that would provide “permanent stationing” of U.S. forces in Iraq — something administration officials have said is not their goal. The provision also would bar the use of federal funds “to exercise control of the oil resources” of Iraq.