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Obama's Signing Statement and Federal Agencies

By Ed O'Keefe

President Obama said earlier this week that he will rarely state his own interpretation of legislation, but he issued his first "signing statement" on Wednesday, outlining five points of disagreement with the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress. While they are minor points in a bill with at least 1,132 pages, a few of them deal directly with his role as head of the federal bureaucracy.

Obama raises concerns with provisions that "prohibit the use of appropriations to pay the salary of any Federal officer or employee who interferes with or prohibits certain communications between Federal employees and Members of Congress."

"I do not interpret this provision to detract from my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees' communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential," the president states.

Several parts of the bill suggest that agency heads can only "spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees," but Obama states that "These are impermissible forms of legislative aggrandizement." The administration will instead take into account the recommendations of committees, but "spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees."

The president also objects to provisions that give congressional committees "the power to establish guidelines for funding costs associated with implementing security improvements to buildings." Obama states that "Executive officials shall treat such guidelines as advisory."

Read the full signing statement below:

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
March 11, 2009

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

Today I have signed into law H.R. 1105, the "Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009." This bill completes the work of last year by providing the funding necessary for the smooth operation of our Nation's Government.

As I announced this past Monday, it is a legitimate constitutional function, and one that promotes the value of transparency, to indicate when a bill that is presented for Presidential signature includes provisions that are subject to well-founded constitutional objections. The Department of Justice has advised that a small number of provisions of the bill raise constitutional concerns.

* Foreign Affairs. Certain provisions of the bill, in titles I and IV of Division B, title IV of Division E, and title VII of Division H, would unduly interfere with my constitutional authority in the area of foreign affairs by effectively directing the Executive on how to proceed or not proceed in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments. I will not treat these provisions as limiting my ability to negotiate and enter into agreements with foreign nations.
* United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. Section 7050 in Division H prohibits the use of certain funds for the use of the Armed Forces in United Nations peacekeeping missions under the command or operational control of a foreign national unless my military advisers have recommended to me that such involvement is in the national interests of the United States. This provision raises constitutional concerns by constraining my choice of particular persons to perform specific command functions in military missions, by conditioning the exercise of my authority as Commander in Chief on the recommendations of subordinates within the military chain of command, and by constraining my diplomatic negotiating authority. Accordingly, I will apply this provision consistent with my constitutional authority and responsibilities.
* Executive Authority to Control Communications with the Congress. Sections 714(1) and 714(2) in Division D prohibit the use of appropriations to pay the salary of any Federal officer or employee who interferes with or prohibits certain communications between Federal employees and Members of Congress. I do not interpret this provision to detract from my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees' communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential.
* Legislative Aggrandizements (committee-approval requirements). Numerous provisions of the legislation purport to condition the authority of officers to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees. These are impermissible forms of legislative aggrandizement in the execution of the laws other than by enactment of statutes. Therefore, although my Administration will notify the relevant committees before taking the specified actions, and will accord the recommendations of such committees all appropriate and serious consideration, spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees. Likewise, one other provision gives congressional committees the power to establish guidelines for funding costs associated with implementing security improvements to buildings. Executive officials shall treat such guidelines as advisory. Yet another provision requires the Secretary of the Treasury to accede to all requests of a Board of Trustees that contains congressional representatives. The Secretary shall treat such requests as nonbinding.
* Recommendations Clause Concerns. Several provisions of the Act (including sections 211 and 224(b) of title II of Division I, and section 713 in Division A), effectively purport to require me and other executive officers to submit budget requests to the Congress in particular forms. Because the Constitution gives the President the discretion to recommend only "such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient" (Article II, section 3 of the Constitution), the specified officers and I shall treat these directions as precatory.

BARACK OBAMA

THE WHITE HOUSE,
March 11, 2009.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 12, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Agencies and Departments  
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Comments

Contrary to news reports and talking heads this is a Democratic party bill, not a Republican bill from last year. All bills from the 110th Congress legally died at the end of the session. This bill in the 111th Congress was introduced by David Obey, a Democrat. It raises funding for many agencies as much as 10%.

H.R.1105 -- Title: Making omnibus appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep Obey, David R. [WI-7] (INTRODUCED 2/23/2009) Cosponsors (None)
Related Bills: H.RES.184
Latest Major Action: Became Public Law No: 111-8

Posted by: CaptainQ | March 12, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Who put those provisions into the bill? Republicans or Democrats?
If they were put in by Democrats, were they put in last term, directed at former Pres Bush?
Or were they put in recently?
Need more info in these important stories.

Posted by: topcat72003 | March 12, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I can't claim credit for this observation, but .... if the bill contains provisions Obama believes are unconstitutional, it's his plainly stated duty as enunciated in the Constitution to veto the bill.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | March 12, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Re Curmudgeon10 above;
Yes, Obama had the duty to veto the bill, but he didn't do that. He just wants to 'control' expenditures.
Obamas 'belief' that Congress does not have TOTAL control of expenditures rather than he, is the unconstitutional part.
Ref: Constitution Article 1.8.1
However since this bill, and the vast majority of legislation passed in the last 150 years, is Unconstitutional, it a moot point.

Posted by: wahlerj | March 13, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

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