When candidate Barack Obama was running for President in 2008 he was highly critical of then-President George W. Bush’s use of what are called signing statements. These are written pronouncements by a president when he signs a bill into law. From Wikipedia.org:
A study released by then-Assistant Attorney General, 1993–1996, Walter Dellinger grouped signing statements into three categories:
Constitutional: asserts that the law is constitutionally defective in order to guide executive agencies in limiting its implementation;
Political: defines vague terms in the law to guide executive agencies in its implementation as written;
Rhetorical: uses the signing of the bill to mobilize political constituencies.
In recent usage, the phrase “signing statement” has referred mostly to statements relating to constitutional matters that direct executive agencies to apply the law according to the president’s interpretation of the Constitution.
Here is candidate Barack Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 responding to a question about signing statements.
That was then and this is now.
Two days before Christmas, President Obama was presented with HR 2055 – the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 – and he signed it. He also concurrently released a presidential memoranda or signing statement saying he objected to parts of it. From the political newspaper The Hill:
President Obama said Friday he will not be bound by at least 20 policy riders in the 2012 omnibus bill funding the government, including provisions pertaining to Guantanamo Bay and gun control.
After he signed the omnibus into law Friday, the White House released a concurrent signing statement saying Obama will object to portions of the legislation on constitutional grounds.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 is a 486 page document that contained Congressional appropriations for most agencies and departments of the Executive Branch. Contained within it were three provisions that are considered wins for gun owners. The NRA-ILA released a statement on these provisions that said in part:
Stopping Your Tax Dollars From Funding Anti-Gun Studies
One of the protections expanded and strengthened can be found in Sec. 218 of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor-H) division of the bill. This section prevents the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from using taxpayer dollars to promulgate junk science designed to paint legal gun ownership as a public health hazard. Since 2002, the NIH has spent nearly $5 million on this “research” even though their counterparts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been prevented from funding similar studies since being blocked in 1996 by a NRA-backed provision.
No Tax Dollars to Lobby and Promote Gun Control
The second is a new NRA-backed provision that is found in Sec. 503 of the Labor-H division. This section prevents federal funds from being used for lobbying efforts designed to support or defeat the passage of legislation being considered by Congress, or any state or local legislative body. Too often, community action groups are utilizing federal money to lobby for increased regulation of firearms including trigger locks, bans on semi-automatic rifles, regulated magazine capacity, etc. This funding subverts the Second Amendment and allows anti-gun Administrations to fund grassroots gun control efforts using taxpayer dollars. We are grateful that H.R. 2055 prohibits further use of this gun control scheme.
Protecting Historic Firearms and Spent Brass Casings from Destruction
Finally, a long-standing provision, found in Department of Defense (DOD) Sec. 8017 division A, preserves the opportunity for American gun owners to purchase surplus firearms that are no longer of use to the U.S. military. This includes M-1 Carbines, M-1 Garand rifles, M-14 rifles, .22 caliber rifles, .30 caliber rifles and M-1911 pistols. Starting in 1979, different versions of this language have prevented these firearms from being needlessly destroyed. In 2009, Congress amended this language at the urging of the NRA to prevent the destruction of spent brass casings, a boon for gun owners and reloaders concerned about the rising price of ammunition.
According to the signing statement, Obama specifically said he would not be bound by the first of these provisions:
Additional provisions in this bill, including section 8013 of Division A and section 218 of Division F, purport to restrict the use of funds to advance certain legislative positions. I have advised the Congress that I will not construe these provisions as preventing me from fulfilling my constitutional responsibility to recommend to the Congress’s consideration such measures as I shall judge necessary and expedient.
Section 218 which relates to the funding of the National Institutes of Health says:
SEC. 218. None of the funds made available in this title may
be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.
So again we see now-President Obama doing things which then-candidate Obama criticized President George W. Bush for doing. In this case, using signing statements to modify implementation of Congressional actions. Moreover, he appears to be making good on his earlier promise to Sarah Brady to conduct gun control policies under the radar.
UPDATE: Here are a couple of more takes on Obama’s contentions in his signing statement.
From Dave Hardy: Obama Discovers the Constitution
From Sebastian: Not Reading the Same Constitution