Why the Bar Would Rather Bush Use Vetoes
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
On Capital Hill today, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced legislation that would allow Congress to sue the president. Republican Arlen Specter wants to be able to test in Federal Court the constitutionality of what are known as signing statements. When the president signs a bill into law, he can state how he believes the law should be interpreted and which segments he plans to ignore.
President Bush has used signing statements more than any other president and that fact does not surprise NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.
DANIEL SCHORR: President Bush hardly needs a blank check from Congress to govern by unitary presidency. He has issued them himself. He has so far issued only one formal veto of a bill that would allow federal funding of stem cell research, leaving a few states to finance programs on their own. He has given little ground to Congress on demand that the program of anti-terrorist surveillance be submitted to the secret intelligence courts. He's expected to ask Congress in September one more time for the line item veto that will permit him to ignore unwelcome appropriations.
But probably the most lethal weapon of control is the signing statements. 42 presidents have objected to a total of about 600 provisions in all. Mr. Bush has single-handedly dumped 800 provisions of law that he intended to ignore in more than a hundred laws that he signed.
For example, the president said he would ignore a provision forbidding the torture or inhumane treatment of prisoners. Another provision aimed at prohibiting him from withholding scientific data from Congress. Still another would have forbidden political interference in federally funded scientific research. On several occasions, Mr. Bush held that he could nullify protection for nuclear whistle blowers in the Energy Department.
The American Bar Association has released the report of its blue ribbon task force, concluding that Mr. Bush's signing statements threaten to undermine the Constitution's principle of separation of powers. Someday, in some other administration, this issue may reach the Supreme Court, where Justice Samuel Alito, who drafted the case for signing statements while in the Justice Department, will undoubtedly have to recuse himself.
Until then you may be hearing a lot about the president's way of vetoing while signing as Mr. Bush pursues his unitary presidency.
This is Daniel Schorr.
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