A Fine Point of American Democracy.
President Bush is using a quaint trick to limit the scope of hundreds of laws that the Congress passes. That is the upshot of this nice article.
In short, this is what happens.
When the Congress passes a law it goes to the President for ratification and his signature is necessary for that law to come into effect. When he signs the law, the President issues a signing statement, which is essentially his views on the law. In these statements Bush has repeatedly rejected provisions of many bills and strongly asserted his constitutional right to interpret them any way he wants.
While these statements technically do not change the content of the laws, they are a very potent weapon in two ways.
1. Presidential statements are deemed very highly by the federal bureaucrats who are charged with the implementation of the laws. Often they look at President's interpretations to resolve any ambiguity, and in such cases may be contradicting the intention of the Congress.
2. When a legal dispute arises in the implementation of the law, often courts look at the debate and testimony, and the law's history to interpret what Congress meant. When there is a presidential statement it becomes an important document in court's deliberations. Thus it is an extremely effective tool for the president to ensure the court pays attention to what he thinks.
President Bush has challenged more than 750 laws since taking office. To put this in historical context, here is what happened with his two predecessors.
George Bush Sr: 232 laws challenged in 4 years.
Bill Clinton: 140 laws challenged in 8 years.
George Bush Jr: More than 750 laws challenged in 5 years.
Here are some of the examples.
Congress: US can't torture its prisoners.
Bush: No, we can if I, as commander-in-chief, think it works.
Congress: Justice department must keep the Congress updated on how it's using the Patriot Act.
Bush: Nope, I can stop Justice dept from giving any information if I feel like it.
Congress: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.
Bush: Nice try. I, or my cronies, will determine whether one can give info to the Congress.
Congress: US troops can't fight rebels in Colombia.
Bush: Are you kidding me. I will say when we can or can't fight.
Congress: Defense department lawyers can't interfere with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders.
Bush: Nothing doing. All military lawyers have to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration's lawyers in the Justice Department and the Pentagon when giving advice to their commanders.
More such examples can be found here.