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Bush signing statements leading to failure to fully execute laws: GAO report

[JURIST] President Bush's use of bill signing statements [1993 DOJ backgrounder; JURIST news archive] has led to several instances where provisions of laws have been ignored in favor of the Bush administration's interpretation, according to a report [PDF text] released Monday by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) [official website]. At the request of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) [official websites], the GAO looked at fiscal year 2006 appropriations acts. Signing statements were attached to 11 of 12 such acts, singling out 160 separate provisions that Bush objected to or said raised constitutional concerns. The GAO reviewed a sample of 19 of those provisions and found that federal agencies did not execute six provisions as directed by Congress, executed 10 provisions as directed, while the remaining 3 were not "triggered." In one specific instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency [official website] refused to submit to Congress a proposal and expenditure plan because the White House interpreted it as a violation of the "bicamerialism and presentment clauses of the US Constitution" as interpreted by the Supreme Court in INS v. Chadha [opinion text].

The GAO also reviewed whether presidential signing statements were used by federal courts in their interpretation of legislation, and found that the courts rarely cited signing statements, saying that the "most common use of signing statements was to supplement legislative history such as committee reports." Conyers said [press release] that the signing statements are an example of "the Administration thumbing its nose at the law," while Byrd said that "The White House cannot pick and choose which laws it follows and which it ignores. When a president signs a bill into law, the president signs the entire bill." In April, a Congressional Research Service report found that Bush has used signing statements 149 times during his administration, 85 percent of which raised some objection to a legislation. Bush's predecessors, such as Presidents Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton, raised objections in 26 percent and 27 percent of their signing statements.

Critics of the procedure, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites] have said that Bush's signing statements impermissibly intrude [statement] upon Congress's power to write and enact laws under Article I of the Constitution [text], which vests "[a]ll legislative powers herein granted" in Congress. In July 2006, the American Bar Association [official website] criticized the practice [JURIST report] as undermining congressional authority. The US Department of Justice, however, has said that Bush's frequent use of signing statements is not abnormal [JURIST report]. AP has more.

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