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Barney Frank mad at Obama
Trouble in paradise?
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has irked close allies in Congress by declaring he has the right to ignore legislation on constitutional grounds after having criticized George W. Bush for doing the same.
Four senior House Democrats on Tuesday said they were "surprised" and "chagrined" by Obama's declaration in June that he doesn't have to comply with provisions in a war spending bill that puts conditions on aid provided to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
In a signing statement accompanying the $106 billion bill, Obama said he wouldn't allow the legislation to interfere with his authority as president to conduct foreign policy and negotiate with other governments.
Earlier in his six-month-old administration, Obama issued a similar statement regarding provisions in a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. He also included qualifying remarks when signing legislation that established commissions to govern public lands in New York, investigate the financial crisis and celebrate Ronald Reagan's birthday.
"During the previous administration, all of us were critical of (Bush's) assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce," the Democrats wrote in their letter to Obama. "We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude."
The letter was signed by Reps. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as well as Reps. Nita Lowey and Gregory Meeks, both of New York, who chair subcommittees on those panels.
Obama needs Obey and Frank in particular to push through Congress key pieces of his agenda, including health care and financial oversight reform.
The White House said Tuesday the administration plans to implement the provisions of the bill and suggested that Obama's signing statement was aimed more at defending the president's executive powers than skirting the law.
"The president has also already made it clear that he will not ignore statutory obligations on the basis of policy disagreements and will reserve signing statements for legislation that raises clearly identified constitutional concerns," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
Bush issued a record number of signing statements while in office as he sparred with Democrats on such big issues as the war in Iraq.
Democrats, including Obama, sharply criticized Bush as overstepping his bounds as president. In March, Obama ordered a review of Bush's guidelines for implementing legislation.
"There is no doubt that the practice of issuing such statements can be abused," Obama wrote in a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies.
At the same time, however, Obama did not rule out issuing any signing statements, which have been used for centuries. Rather, he ordered his administration to work with Congress to inform lawmakers about concerns over legality before legislation ever reaches his desk. He also pledged to use caution and restraint when writing his own signing statements, and said he would rely on Justice Department guidance when doing so.
Two days after issuing the memo, Obama issued his first signing statement exerting executive power after receiving a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. He said the bill would "unduly interfere" with his authority by directing him how to proceed, or not to, in negotiations and discussions with international organizations and foreign governments.
Obey and the other House lawmakers said this week that Obama's signing statement on the war bill will make it tougher in the future to persuade other lawmakers to support the World Bank and IMF.
If Congress can't place conditions on the money, "it will make it virtually impossible to provide further allocations for these institutions," they wrote.
July 21, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We were surprised to read your signing statement in which you expressed the view that you are constitutionally free to ignore the conditions duly adopted in the legislative process regarding funding for the international financial institutions. As you know, there was a great deal of resistance to this funding during debate on the supplemental bill – as there often is for these entities – and the four of us worked very hard to support the inclusion of funding for the IMF and the World Bank.
The conditions that you have expressed your right to ignore are critical: each represents significant policy concerns, especially in light of the history of many of the international financial institutions that we believe have been insufficiently supportive of values that we know you share with us. In addition, these conditions were important in securing support in both houses.
During the previous administration, all of us were critical of the President’s assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce. We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude.
Along with your assurances that you will respect these conditions, we request that you no longer assert the right to ignore provisions that Congress adds through the normal legislative process for funding for the international financial institutions.
If we are forced to conclude that you will not accept the terms and conditions under which the legislation passed, we must make clear that – both as a matter of the personal preference of those of us signing this letter and as a practical matter from the standpoint of getting sufficient votes to pass these measures in the future – it will make it virtually impossible to provide further allocations for these institutions. That is, the policy of using signing statements to assert the right of the White House to ignore certain provisions of legislation regarding the IMF, the World Bank, and other international financial institutions may result not in the invalidation of those various provisions, but rather in insufficient Congressional support for further funding of these institutions.
REP. BARNEY FRANK Chairman, House Financial Services Committee
REP. DAVID R. OBEY Chairman, House Appropriations Committee
REP. NITA M. LOWEY Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
REP. GREGORY W. MEEKS Chairman, House Financial Services Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy