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Obama Runs Into Signing Statements Firestorm

As a presidential candidate in 2008, President Obama aggressively criticized his predecessor, George W. Bush, for attaching signing statements to legislation coming across his desk.

“I taught the Constitution for 10 years,” Obama said then. “I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.”

Three years later, Obama is racking up a reputation for using the same technique, which is neither specifically prohibited nor sanctioned by the Constitution or federal law. On Friday he announced the addition of a statement that would override parts of the 2011 federal appropriations bill, specifically a provision defunding four White House czars.

Obama said these presidential appointees, overseeing health care, climate change, cars and urban affairs, are not going anywhere.

As Talking Points Memo reported, “The President in the early evening on Friday — a time notorious for news dumps — raised reporters’ and his critics hackles by adding a signing statement to the resolution that funds the federal government through September and avoids a government shutdown. The signing statement suggests Obama would ignore some parts of the deal, including language defunding the czars overseeing health care, climate change, the auto industry and urban affairs. Republicans have long lambasted Obama’s use of czars, senior presidential advisers on major issues who do not require Senate confirmation.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney rushed to clarify candidate Obama’s past stance about signing statements, arguing that Bush had used them improperly but that Obama is not.

“He never said he was opposed to signing statements,” Carney said. “He’s always said the President must retain the right to use signing statements. … His concern was with what he saw was abuse of the signing statement by the previous administration.”

Conservatives are jumping on Obama for what they see as a flip-flop on the practice, which the president also employed in signing the 2009 budget bill. — KDG

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