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I think the best thing that someone can say at your funeral or wake is that the world is a better place because you were here. Molly Ivins passed away at 62 from breast cancer and the world is a better place because she was here. Godspeed Ms. Ivins.
Ho hum, Joe Biden just announced he's officially a candidate for President. Now someone please tell me something I don't know. I saw Biden at a Chris Carney event last fall outside Scranton where he openly said he was a candidate and I reported it in my article on the event. I was looking forward to going to Wilmington today for the announcement but couldn't discover where and when it would be held. I emailed the Senator's campaign committee through their published email address and it bounced back as undeliverable. That told me about all I needed to know.
This is a follow up to the article below concerning President Bush's signing statements and Sen. Specter's actions in holding him accountable. This is courtesy of the Senator's press secretary Scott Hoeflich and I appreciate he took the time to send them.
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - July 26, 2006)
By Mr. SPECTER:
S. 3731. A bill to regulate the judicial use of presidential signing statements in the interpretation of Acts of Congress; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I seek recognition today to introduce the Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2006. This bill achieves three important goals.
First, it prevents the President from issuing a signing statement that alters the meaning of a statute by instructing Federal and State courts not to rely on Presidential signing statements in interpreting a statute.
Second, it permits the Congress to seek what amounts to a declaratory judgment on the legality of Presidential signing statements that seek to modify--or even to nullify--a duly enacted statute.
Third, it grants Congress the power to intervene in any case in the Supreme Court where the construction or constitutionality of any act of Congress is in question and a presidential signing statement for that act was issued.
Presidential signing statements are nothing new. Since the days of President James Monroe, Presidents have issued statements when signing bills. It is widely agreed that there are legitimate uses for signing statements. For example, Presidents may use signing statements to instruct executive branch officials how to administer a law. They may also use them to explain to the public the likely effect of a law. And, there may be a host of other legitimate uses.
However, the use of signing statements has risen dramatically in recent years. As of June 26, 2006, President Bush had issued 130 signing statements. President Clinton issued 105 signing statements during his two terms. While the mere numbers may not be significant, the reality is that the way the President has used those statements renders the legislative process a virtual nullity.
The President cannot use a signing statement to rewrite the words of a statute nor can the President use a signing statement to selectively nullify those provisions he does not like. This much is clear from our Constitution. The Constitution grants the President a specific, narrowly defined role in enacting legislation. Article I, section 1 of the Constitution vests ``all legislative powers ..... in a Congress.'' Article I, section 7 of the Constitution provides that when a bill is presented to the President, he may either sign it or veto it with his objections. He may also choose to do nothing, thus rendering a so-called
pocket veto. The President cannot veto part of bill, however; he cannot veto certain provisions he does not like.
The Founders had good reason for constructing the legislative process as it is: by creating a bicameral legislature and then granting the President the veto power. According to The Records of the Constitutional Convention, the veto power was designed by our Framers to protect citizens from a particular Congress that might enact oppressive legislation. However, the Framers did not want the veto power to be unchecked, and so, in article I, section 7, they balanced it by allowing Congress to override a veto by two-thirds vote.
As you can see, this is a finely structured constitutional procedure that goes straight to the heart of our system of check and balances. Any action by the President that circumvents this finely structured procedure is an unconstitutional attempt to usurp legislative authority. If the President is permitted to rewrite the bills that Congress passes and cherry pick which provisions he likes and does not like, he subverts the constitutional process designed by our Framers.
The Supreme Court has affirmed that the constitutional process for enacting legislation must be safe guarded. As the Supreme Court explained in INS v. Chahda, ``It emerges clearly that the prescription for legislative action in Article I, Section 1, clause 7 represents the Framers' decision that the legislative power of the Federal government be exercised in accord with a single, finely wrought and exhaustively considered, procedure.''
So, while signing statements have been commonplace since our country's founding, we must make sure that they are not being used in an unconstitutional manner; a manner that seeks to rewrite legislation, and exercise line item vetoes.
President Bush has used signing statements in ways that have raised some eyebrows. For example, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act after months of deliberation. We debated nearly every provision--often redrafting and revising. Moreover, we worked very closely with the President because we wanted to get it right. We wanted to make sure that we were passing legislation that the executive branch would find workable. In fact, in many ways, the process was an excellent example of the legislative branch and the executive branch working together towards a common goal.
In the end, the bill that was passed by the Senate and the House contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. It also required Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations.
The President signed the PATRIOT Act into law, but afterwards, he wrote a signing statement that said he could withhold any information from Congress provided in the oversight provisions if he decided that disclosure would impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties.
Now, during the entire process of working with the President to draft
the PATRIOT Act, he never asked the Congress to include this language in the Act. At a hearing we held on signing statements, I asked an executive branch official, Michelle Boardman from the Office of Legal Counsel, why the President did not ask the Congress to put the signing statement language into the bill. She simply didn't have an answer. I asked her to get back to me with the answer and I still have not gotten a response.
Take another example, the McCain amendment. In that legislation, Congress voted by an overwhelming margin--90 to 9--to ban all U.S. personnel from inflicting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on any prisoner held anywhere by the United States. President Bush, who had threatened to veto the legislation, instead invited its prime sponsor, Senator John McCain, to the White House for a public reconciliation and declared they had a common objective: to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture.
Now from that, you might conclude that by signing the McCain amendment into law, the Bush administration has fully committed to not using torture. But you would be wrong. After the public ceremony of signing the bill into law, the President issued a signing statement saying his administration would interpret the new law ``in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power.'' This vague language may mean that--despite the McCain amendment--the administration may still be preserving a right to inflict torture on prisoners and to evade the International Convention Against Torture.
The constitutional structure of enacting legislation must be safeguarded. That is why I am here today to introduce the Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2006. This bill does not seek to limit the President's power--and this bill does not seek to expand Congress's power. Rather, this bill simply seeks to safeguard our constitution.
First, the bill instructs courts not to rely on Presidential signing statements in construing an act. This will provide courts with much-needed guidance on how legislation should be interpreted. The Supreme Court's reliance on Presidential signing statements has been sporadic and unpredictable. In some cases--such as United States v. Lopez, where the Court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act--the Supreme Court has relied on Presidential signing statements as a source of authority, while in other cases, such as the recent military tribunals case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, it has conspicuously declined to do so. This inconsistency has the unfortunate effect of rendering the interpretation of Federal law unpredictable.
It is well within Congress's power to resolve judicial disputes such as this by enacting rules of statutory interpretation. This power flows from article I, section 8, clause 18 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power ``To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.'' Rules of statutory interpretation are necessary and proper to execute the legislative power. Moreover, any legislation that sets out rules for interpreting an act makes legislation more clear and precise which is exactly what we aim to achieve here in Congress. Congress can and should exercise this power over the interpretation of Federal statutes in a systematic and comprehensive manner.
Second, this bill permits the Congress to seek a declaratory judgment on the legality of Presidential signing statements that seek to modify--or even to nullify--a duly enacted statute. Again, this simply ensures that signing statements are not used in an unconstitutional manner.
Third, it grants Congress the power to intervene in any case in the Supreme Court where the construction or constitutionality of any act of Congress is in question and a Presidential signing statement for that act was issued. That way, if the court is trying to determine the meaning or the constitutionality of an act, the Congress gets a voice in the debate.
Take for example United States v. Lopez. In that case, the Supreme Court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act as beyond Congress's power to regulate commerce. Chief Justice Rehnquist relied, in part, on President George Bush's signing statement to support the Court's conclusion that the plain language of the statute does not suggest that it affects interstate commerce. Now, I do not see, in a case like this, why Congress should not get to explain its side. This bill would allow Congress to intervene and present evidence as to the meaning of an act in question.
This bill does not seek to limit the President's power and it does not seek to expand Congress's power. It simply seeks to put measures in place that will safeguard the constitutional structure of enacting legislation. In preserving this structure, this bill reinforces our system of checks and balances and separation of powers set out in our Constitution and I urge my colleagues to support it.
This is an update to my article about Sen. Arlen Specter and his position on signing statements. The Senator's press secretary Scott Hoeflich kindly got back to me this afternoon about the article, comments made within it, and the Military Commissions Act. He also took the time to send me material.
My claim is why the Senator didn't do something about this when he was Chair of the Judiciary Committee. As Scott point he did, as specified in his letter which I included in the article. Last June Specter initiated hearings into the President's use of signing statements to negate the will of Congress. Where these hearings went or what they accomplished is obvious because Bush continues to defy the will of the people by issuing these documents: nada.
I do stand corrected in that the Senator did initiate some action while Chair. Congress seems to have been as much in the dark about these statements as anyone else, and I find that revelation disturbing. As Mr. Hoeflich points out the first indication that these were being done was when the Patriot Act Reorganization Act was signed. If you recall there was much discussion about the role and definition of torture when the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2007 were was enacted. Bush wanted a liberal definition of torture and McCain and Specter held out for one which allowed some torture (that's like being just a little bit pregnant isn't it? You either torture or you don't.)
As I pointed out to Mr. Hoeflich, Sen. Specter voted for the MCA. He attempted to excuse the vote by saying the Senator held out for a stricter definition. You can orate all you want and negotiate all you want but when you vote that vote trumps all the rhetoric. It's the vote that counts, not what you said. Specter voted for the Military Commissions Act. He has since reintroduced a bill restoring the right of habeas corpus and for that we commend him. Let us know what we can do to help it get passed Senator.
As for the signing statements, let's back to the fact the Senator obviously wasn't aware of them until last May. Wow. This is a very senior United States Senator of the President's own Party, Chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee and he wasn't aware the President was nullifying the work of Congress by, as Mr. Hoeflich aptly puts it, "cherrypicking what he'll enforce." Dam, that's really upsetting. This shows how secret this practice was. For someone with the stature of an Arlen Specter to not know of these during the course of five years is appalling. How secretive is this White House and what else have they been doing we don't know about? This is very significant and the biggest thing I took from my conversation with the press secretary.
I do credit the Senator that once he discovered the practice he began hearings. He did attempt to stand up and insist on some accountability, a practice the last Congress was extremely remiss on. Perhaps if there'd been more such practices as these signing statements and the NSA warrant less wiretapping might not have occurred.
Here's the insanity of this entire process: Congress can pass legislation explicitly banning the President from negating all their work by signing statements saying what he agrees to abide by and what he doesn't. But then Bush can simply sign another statement altering the legislation. Essentially we no longer have a tripartite government. We no longer have a legislature which enacts laws and an executive branch to enforce them and a judiciary to interpret the laws. We have a "unitary executive" with limitless war powers to do whatever he "decides." Or decrees. This is scary stuff. The bottom line right now is this: Sen. Specter gets it, is upset and is trying to do something about it. Kudos.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer is returning as head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee according to The New York Times. He was one of three men who exclusively determined who our U.S. Senate candidate was going to be last year. Facing a fatally flawed incumbent in Rick Santorum Pennsylvania was in a unique position to replace an extremist Republican with a progressive Democrat. Schumer, along with Ed Rendell and Peter Buttonweiser, selected Bob Casey Jr. in a very undemocratic series of back room deals.
Schumer is now being celebrated for his machinations while Pennsylvanians are stuck with a Senator who is opposed to serious progressive issues like choice, stem cell research, equality of rights and gun safety. I don't celebrate or glorify Schumer's actions I condemn them. It's up to Democrats across Pennsylvania to determine who their nominee should be not a few big shots doing back room deals. Barbara Hafer and Joe Hoeffel were both prepared to join Chuck Pennacchio in a primary with Casey. Hafer even announced her candidacy then abruptly withdrew under pressure. Hoeffel caved even before he announced.
No one knows what promises were made to entice the pro choice candidates to withdraw but media reports at the time said Casey wouldn't run unless the primary field was cleared of major opposition. Polls at the time showed that any Democratic candidate could defeat Santorum, a poll which proved correct on November 7th. Alan Sandals, another progressive, joined the race after Schumer forced Hafer and Hoeffel out.
The result of Casey's anointing by "the powers that be" resulted in money drying up for the progressive candidates. Funds and endorsements got very hard to get. Buttonweiser is a highly influential fund raiser for both Republicans and Democrats and big money donors were reluctant to cross his choice of Casey.
The Times article even mentions the back room dealings that occurred in 2005:
"Rendell originally told Schumer that he didn’t think Casey would run. Casey had long been interested in following in his father’s footsteps as governor, the job he sought in 2002 when he lost to Rendell in the Democratic primary. Also, Casey had just been elected state treasurer, and a Senate bid would mark the fourth different office he would seek in as many election cycles."
"But Casey nonetheless jumped into the race in March 2005 — some 20 months before the election. Schumer’s efforts to clear the field for him ensured that there would not be a fractious Democratic primary election, even though Casey’s opposition to abortion rankled many abortion rights supporters within the ranks of Democratic activists."
The Times gets it wrong (again???) by characterizing this move as "sage" because it wasn't. Thousands of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania were quite angry at being disenfranchised by the Party bigwigs. They justifiably felt it was up to them to determine who their nominee should be by voting in an open primary. Schumer, Rendell and Buttonweiser just weren't going to allow that to happen. Pennacchio and Sandals were effectively cut off financially though Sandals spent $500,000 of his own money.
Pennsylvania Democrats are still angry because they look at Senator Casey and know they could have had a Senator Pennacchio instead. Chuck Schumer is not welcome among Pennsylvania progressives and never will be because of this and no one here is cheering his continuation at the DSCC.
Former Georgia Senator Max Cleland was demonized, castigated and run out of Washington four years ago by a slimeball named Saxby (Shameless) Chambliss over his votes to protect federal employees in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. A new report may vindicate his position. Cleland voted against creation of DHS because the Bush Administration was stripping its employees of their traditional federal worker's protections. These had been in place as the result of blatant and corrupt patronage practices in bygone years.
Knowing what we know about Bush politicizing every aspect of the government this was truly a prescient and principled stand. Max Cleland lost his seat because of those votes when Saxby Shameless inundated Georgia with ads saying Cleland didn't want to protect them from another 9/11 style attack. He was called a traitor and unAmerican for standing up for federal employees.
It turns out now that DHS employees are not happy campers. DHS has scored last in job satisfaction, leadership, and workplace performance in the 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey. Many political hacks like Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown found homes in DHS while 62,000 people on the Gulf Coast who used to have homes continue living in FEMA (DHS) trailers due to their incompetence. Imagine what it must be like working for this agency?
Chertoff and former Gov. Tom Ridge have yet to create a Department of Homeland Security which is capable of protecting the homeland. Chemical and nuclear plants remain unprotected from attack, most air and sea cargo remains uninspected, airport security is a joke, and immigration enforcement is nonexistent. No wonder the workers are upset. Maybe extending civil service protections might have been a good idea. Maybe Max Cleland is being vindicated by this report. I hope so because he stood up for these people when few would.
The federal minimum wage bill is finally progressing through Congress after being blocked by Republicans last week. America's working poor haven't seen a wage increase since 1997 and Majority Leader Harry Reid began playing hardball this week to get a clean bill passed by the Senate. He did so by threatening to repeal the automatic cost of living increases legislators receive until the minimum wage is increased. The House side also has decided to withhold the COLA adjustment and this action is finally getting the member's attention.
The 110th Congress is finishing the work of the 109th by passing an omnibus spending bill. Nine of eleven appropriation bills were left unpassed by Congress last year and those federal agencies were operating under continuing resolutions. This legislation cobbles them all together but strips all earmarks (pork barrel projects) from funding. The government is already a third of the way through its fiscal year with no budgets approved except for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The Republican led 109th Congress neglected to its job passing these appropriation bills.
Witnesses testified to the House Governmental Activities Committee that the Bush White House forced changes in numerous scientific studies about global warming. In spite of his empty rhetoric last week about "the threat of global climate change" President Bush has done everything in his immense power to stall and avoid addressing the issue. Global warming is sure to be the single defining issue of our times.
Testimony today said that 40% of government scientists have had the texts of their studies changed to change their meaning. These edits weren't innocent, they were substantive enough to completely alter what was being said. Most changes had to do with warnings about the science of global climate change. Instead of saying, for instance, that climate change is underway the reports were altered to say it may happen.
George W. Bush has been in a state of complete denial about global warming. ExxonMobil has spent billions producing and distributing propaganda trying to debunk or mislead the science. A lobbyist for the company is one of those accused of changing these reports when he was employed by the Bush Administration.
We've lost six precious years under this idiot President in the fight to preserve our planet. Six years in which we've witnessed stronger hurricanes, lost a major American city, and seen more frequent extreme weather events than ever. Polar bears are drowning and now may be endangered. Glaciers are melting and the only rational explanation for the oil industry's stonewalling is this: when the arctic melts it'll be easier for them to drill there. Of course more oil means more warming and an inevitable ice age.
The bottom line is something we've been ranting about often: the politization of every aspect of the federal government. George Bush doesn't believe in science. The only thing he believes in is his Bible, a book rewritten by the long dead English King James. He's gambling our lives and our existence on his faith that the rapture is coming and he can advance its inception. The man is a lunatic and people are dying because of it. Regardless he continues not to believe the science and actually alters the scientific reports to hide his incompetence and stupidity. This isn't about ignorance. The scientific reports are being produced and he's forcing these people to hide the truth from us. That's criminal.
Some Republicans in Harrisburg are re-introducing TABOR, what they call the Taxpayer Bill Of Rights. This legislation would put a cap on state spending that could not be violated. It has been passed in a couple states and caused serious harm. Colorado is in the process of repealing theirs. Sen. Bob Regola and Rep. Eichelberger are pushing their new plan which also has some built in escalators for things as inflation.
Some of the biggest causes of higher revenues and taxes are energy and health care. Until these legislators tackle these problems TABOR would be a disaster. If health care costs continue escalating at 12-17% annually you cannot implement hard spending caps without hurting people. Spending caps are also inherently harmful because of growth. Unless these lawmakers also include provisions to halt all development, population growth, and guarantee a certain level of economic growth the plan is impossible and will only result in greatly decreased services in programs like police coverage, prisons (how many rapists and murderers do they want to release rather than build new facilities?), protection for abused women and children and education?
As population and economic activity increase so do the demands for government services. More people means more police are needed, more roads and bridges, more schools and more everything. That's the way of the world and you cannot legislate an end to growth and progress. The one thing this state doesn't need is a law which results in more people leaving the Commonwealth because we are unable to provide essential services. We have a difficult enough time keeping our young people and caring for our elderly. Let's not make that harder.