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Obama’s czar end-run: ‘Signing statements’ he once opposed

While the debate rages among conservatives on the merits of the budget deal lawmakers struck with President Barack Obama, add an additional point of contention: Czars, of which the appropriations measure reached last week eliminated four. At least, that’s what House GOP’ers thought.

The spending bill as written prohibited the White House from devoting funds to those czars directing the administration’s policy agenda for health care, climate change, the auto industry and urban affairs.

But the president broke the terms of the eleventh-hour agreement, issuing a signing statement Friday indicating he would employ czars–of which he’s tapped a record 39–as he sees appropriate.

Congressional Republicans were incensed.

House Speaker John Beohner’s office said the move was typical for Obama to object to the elimination of its czars after he already once bypassed Congressional approval for their appointment. And Rep. Steve Scalise, the chief sponsor to legislation to defund the small army of administration-appointed advisers, accused the president of violating the Constitution and ruling like a “dictator.”

Then a candidate, Obama often objected to signing statements of former President George W. Bush, using the Republican’s presidential prerogatives as foils of good government.

In a December 2007 interview with the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage, Obama vowed to never issue signing statements as an end-run around Congressional instructions, like, say, the directive he curtail the appointment of senior administration officials not subject to Senate confirmation.

“While it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability,” Obama said. “I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.”

And as one White House press secretary maintained Obama’s weekend signing statement was in accordance with positions he staked out as a candidate, another, Dana Perino, blasted the president and press corps for politically expedient double standards.

“I’m not at all bothered by the practice, which presidents have used for over 200 years,” Perino said in an email an email to The Hill. “But when the Democrats and left wing came after President Bush relentlessly, a reporter [Savage] won a national press award for his ‘dogged’ coverage, and the current president campaigned against a the practice making promises he doesn’t keep – the media just shrugs it off as either it as a) not a big deal to them if President Obama does it or b) unremarkable that he has backtracked on yet another issue.”

“We defended a lot of principles that didn’t make for easy soundbites and rah-rahs from even our supporters – but we didn’t do one thing for political expediency and good headlines and then change our position and pretend that was principled,” she added.

For this Constitutional scholar, contemporary executive abuse of power doesn’t register much frustration these days.

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