Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Muddled Mess

Rafael Valero of National Journal files a story--which seemingly demonstrates that NJ does not consider itself a slave to the 24 hour news cycle since it is nearly a month old--on the signing statement President Bush signed to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008. This is the bill that President Bush attempted to pocket veto back in December because of complaints from the Iraq Government--an action that drew the wrath of Congress because he had not signaled at any stage of the game that a veto was coming (I have documented the pocket veto controversy here and the signing statement controversy here). In the article, John Woolley, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a co-founder of the American Presidency Project--an extremely valuable website if you need hard data on the American Presidency, refers to Bush's veto as a pocket veto--something that he should know better than to say. Bush attempted a "protective return" pocket veto and Congress balked, forcing a Bush veto.

As for the article, despite my best efforts to make the number of signing statements issued (159) and the number of provisions challenged (1,167) public, Valero continues to report old figures--156 statements issued and "over 750" provisions challenged. Second, most of it simply rehashes what has already been reported nearly a month ago--that the challenges were made because they interfered with Bush's negotiations with the Iraqi Government to lock the US--and the next president--into a long term commitment and because it created several oversight organizations, such as the Commission on Wartime Contracting--which monitors government contracting.

There are a couple of interesting nuggets, if for nothing more than to demonstrate Valero's lack of curiosity to scratch deeper than the surface. First, Valero claims that the president vetoed the first bill back in December because of these problematic oversight provisions and not because of the complaints from the Iraqi government. His source for this is "critics," and it is a bit of a head scratcher. Back in December, when the first bill was vetoed, the administration and the Congress quickly worked together to deal with the complaints from the Iraqis. There is nothing anywhere to suggest that the administration also tried to get the Congress to water down or remove the troublesome provisions identified in the signing statement. After President Bush signed the bill and made the challenges, the Congress was completely blindsided because the administration had never mentioned any concern regarding any of those provisions. So why would critics suggest that all of this negative attention was over a failed "bait and switch"? It seems to me that this claim deserved more than the passing attention it received.

Second, he mentions the Commission on Wartime Contracting, the brainchild of Senators Jim Webb (D. VA) and Claire McCaskill (D. MO). The Commission is a "hybrid" commission that contains individuals appointed by the leadership in the House and Senate, and individuals appointed by the president. This provision in the National Defense Authorization bill is one that President Bush challenged in his signing statement. So far the Commission has not met because the Congress is "waiting to see whether the White House will name its two representatives...". I am not sure why the Congress does not go ahead and appoint their members and then apply public pressure against the White House to appoint its members (or face a rhetorical assault that the White House is in favor of poaching by companies like Haliburton)? Valero claims that the White House "has indicated" that it " set up the commission." Might help set up? Why might? The bill that President Bush signed claims the administration must appoint their members, not might appoint their members. Valero lacks interest in the administration's claim that it "might" obey the law. Instead, he falls to the superficial:

"Woolley, fascinated by the politicking involved with the Defense bill, the president's signing statements, and the constitutional implications, said that Bush's stance is "pretty clever politics, but it's not clear that it is good democracy."

You need a Ph.D. to make that conclusion? And you wonder why the public has lost faith in government and the media?