White House Signing Statements “Unsubstantiated,” Report Says

By August 20, 2008

The Bush Administration’s use of presidential signing statements to indicate disapproval of enacted legislation has generated confusion and has undermined congressional oversight of national defense policy, the House Armed Services Committee said in a report this week (pdf).

One problem is that the Bush White House often fails to articulate the basis of its objections or their specific application in practice, the report said, terming White House objections “broad and unsubstantiated.”

“The functionality of a signing statement is greatly reduced if it is too vague to identify the concerns of the President and the interpretation of the law that the President is trying to convey to the executive branch,” the Committee report said.

Yet in issuing a signing statement indicating constitutional reservations about portions of the FY2008 defense authorization act, the President did not even identify all of the provisions that he found objectionable, the report said.

“While presidents have issued signing statements for quite some time, this President has issued a significantly larger percentage of signing statements challenging or objecting to various provisions of the law.”

“Signing statements may, if used appropriately, serve a legitimate function as a tool for continuing dialog between the President, Congress, and the public. On the other hand, signing statements may be a mechanism to expand executive authority at the expense of the legislature,” the Committee report said.

The report identified options for improving oversight, such as using signing statements as a roadmap for targeted oversight of particular provisions opposed by the Administration, and introducing legislating to require formal notification of agency refusal to implement particular statutes.

See “Presidential Signing Statements,” Findings of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Armed Services Committee, August 18.

The Committee held a hearing on signing statements, referenced in the new report, on March 11. Prepared testimony from that hearing is available here.

Categories: Secrecy