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Torture, By Any Other Name
Here's the CRS report , Web-posted by the Federation of American Scientists.
Oversight (Non) Watch
The report concludes that for all their bluster, the signing statements actually are nothing a little Congressional oversight couldn't cure.
"While the broad assertions of executive authority contained in these statements carry significant implications, both practical and constitutional, for the traditional relationship between the Executive Branch and Congress, they do not have legal force or effect, and have not been utilized to effect the formal nullification of laws. . . .
"It can be argued that the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority. Accordingly, a robust oversight regime focusing on substantive executive action, as opposed to the vague and generalized assertions of authority typical of signing statements, might allow Congress in turn to more effectively assert its constitutional prerogatives and ensure compliance with its enactments."
But as Robert Kuttner recently wrote in the American Prospect (subscription required), when it comes to oversight, "[t]he default of Republicans in Congress is staggering. No ongoing investigations on waste and incompetence at the Department of Homeland Security. Nothing on the vast self-serving mess that is the Medicare prescription-drug program. Nothing serious on the scandals by defense contractors in Iraq, or on Cheney's possible role in securing a $7 billion dollar no-bid contract for Halliburton, or on his secret energy task force. Nothing on the enforcement default by the Environmental Protection Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. No serious oversight of the FBI. Precious little on the ongoing failure to rebuild New Orleans, or on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, or the illegal domestic spying, or on the Justice Department's failure to enforce the right to vote. Nothing on the data-mining program that has revived the supposedly discarded John Poindexter plan by the back door."
And certainly no follow-up on signing statements.
Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush on Wednesday signed a homeland security bill that includes an overhaul of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $1.2 billion for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration.
"Standing before a mountainous backdrop in Arizona, a state that has been the center of much debate over secure borders, Bush signed into law a $35 billion homeland security spending bill that could bring hundreds of miles of fencing to the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexican border."
Here's the text of Bush's remarks at the bill signing. "This is a good bill," he said, in his brief remarks.
But what neither Riechmann nor Bush bothered to mention was that, when the cameras were no longer running, Bush issued another signing statement , 1,078 words long and objecting to a slew of the bill's provisions.
As usual, it's not entirely clear what Bush's objections really mean, or what effect they'll have. And as usual, no one bothered to ask anyone at the White House why they couldn't have taken a more up-front approach, and either worked with Congress to resolve their differences or vetoed the bill.
So many of the questions I raised about signing statements on NiemanWatchdog.org in June are still unanswered.