Bush Uses Signing Statements to Leverage Power from Congress, CRS Says

09.28.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Bush Administration’s use of Presidential signing statements to assert objections to enacted legislation reflects an attempt to expand and consolidate Presidential authority at the expense of Congress, according to a new analysis (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

“It seems evident that the Bush signing statements are an integral part of the Administration’s efforts to further its broad view of presidential prerogatives and to assert functional and determinative control over all elements of the executive decisionmaking process,” the CRS study said.

“It appears that recent administrations, as made apparent by the voluminous challenges lodged by President George W. Bush, have employed these instruments in an attempt to leverage power and control away from Congress by establishing these broad assertions of authority as a constitutional norm.”

Signing statements have been issued by Presidents for over a century and are not inherently problematic. To the contrary, they may be beneficial to the extent that they alert Congress and the public to Presidential actions and intentions.

Yet the Bush Administration has been issuing signing statements with growing frequency, as reported earlier this year by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe, and in a way that involves a “qualitative difference” from their use in the past, according to the CRS.

The Bush signing statements appear to be part of a larger campaign to seize increased Presidential authority, the CRS said.

“The broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure [i.e., to accustom] Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the President in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude,” the CRS report stated.

It follows that “the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority.”

The CRS study, written by T.J. Halstead, provides abundant information on the history of presidential signing statements, describes their limited impact on the judicial process, critiques a recent American Bar Association report on the subject, and more.

Like other CRS products, this study has not been made directly available to the public by CRS. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications,” September 22, 2006.