Bush Thumbs Nose at Congress

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; 1:02 PM

It's about as basic as it gets: Congress has the power of the purse. And Section 1222 of the massive defense appropriation bill enacted this week asserts that power. It reads, in its entirety:

"No funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act may be obligated or expended for a purpose as follows:

"(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.

"(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."

But in another of his controversial " signing statements," President Bush on Tuesday asserted that Section 1222 -- along with three other sections of the bill -- "purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the President's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as Commander in Chief."

Therefore, he wrote: "The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President."

The overall message to Congress was clear: I'm not bound by your laws.

The three other sections Bush reserved the right to ignore are also significant. One mandates the establishment of a commission to investigate waste and fraud in military contracts; another strengthens protections for whistle-blowers working for federal contractors; a third requires the president to explain in writing each time an intelligence agency refuses to respond to a document request from the House and Senate armed services committees.

But it's Bush's cavalier dismissal of the ban on funding for permanent military bases that really speaks volumes -- not just about his view of the role of the legislative branch, but also about his intentions for Iraq.

An overwhelming majority of the American public wants a withdrawal of U.S. troops; the Democrats who control congress, and may take over the White House in a year, are committed to doing just that. But, by keeping open the possibility of permanent military bases, Bush raises suspicions domestically that he is trying to lock the nation's armed forces into a long-term presence -- while risking increased anger in Iraq over what many perceive as a long-term project of imperial domination.

Where's the Coverage?

Looking for a news story about all this in your morning paper? You won't find one in The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times or the Wall Street Journal.

Instead, you must turn to the Boston Globe and Charlie Savage, who won a Pulitzer Prize last year for being the first -- and for a long time, only -- reporter to write about Bush's unprecedented use of signing statements.

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