Executive Power Outrage

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 6, 2006; 1:09 PM

When all is said and done, the biggest story of the Bush presidency will likely be its dramatic expansion of executive power -- engineered by Vice President Cheney, unchecked by a supine Congress, and underreported by the traditional media.

Every so often, of course, you'll see a Washington journalist take a step back to examine the big picture. Even a modest sign of defiance in the legislative or judicial branches can serve as a handy news peg.

And an excellent example of the species appears today in USA Today, where Susan Page writes: "After five years of a concerted White House campaign, there are tentative signs that Congress and the courts are beginning to push back against what has been the greatest expansion of presidential powers in a generation or more.

"Those pushing back include some congressional Republicans and conservative jurists who have been among President Bush's chief allies. The efforts surely would intensify if Democrats won control of the House or Senate in November's elections -- and with it the power to convene hearings and issue subpoenas."

Page cites such examples as the bipartisan condemnation of the FBI search of a congressional office and a Senate Intelligence Committee vote to demand that the administration notify all members of the committees about intelligence operations, not just some.

It ain't much, really. Even Page notes: "It's true that Congress generally hasn't used or even threatened to use its most potent weapons in a confrontation with the White House, such as issuing subpoenas or cutting off funding for programs."

But it's still a good excuse to call attention to the fact that the Bush Administration "has taken a series of actions to expand presidential powers."

Here's Page's handy list of "How Bush has asserted powers of the executive."

Page writes: "Analysts credit Bush's ability to prevail in large part to the aftermath of 9/11, which buttressed Americans' backing for a president with the power to battle a shadowy and terrifying foe. In the fiercely partisan climate of Washington, the Republican-controlled House and Senate generally have lined up behind Bush, not challenged him."

Signing Statements

Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe continues to play the one-man band on a wildly undercovered aspect of this underreported story: Bush's use of signing statements to flout the law.

Here's Savage over the weekend: "The board of governors of the American Bar Association voted unanimously yesterday to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office. . . .

"The ABA's president, Michael Greco, said in an interview that he proposed the task force because he believes the scope and aggressiveness of Bush's signing statements may raise serious constitutional concerns. He said the ABA, which has more than 400,000 members, has a duty to speak out about such legal issues to the public, the courts, and Congress. . . .


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