Press Releases

House Chairs Warn President of Dangers of Signing Statements

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Washington, DC, July 21, 2009 | comments

In a letter sent to President Obama today, four leading House members with primary legislative responsibility for U.S. participation in the international financial institutions noted their surprise and disappointment at the signing statement issued by the President when he recently approved the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009. 

    In the signing statement, the President asserted that he did not feel bound by certain reform provisions attached to congressional funds for the World Bank and IMF, claiming that they would interfere with his constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations, diplomacy, or negotiations.

    The four committee leaders cautioned the President that continued insistence on his right to ignore provisions of laws providing funds to international financial institutions would make it highly unlikely that such funds would be provided in the future.

    The letter was signed by Chairman David Obey (D-WI) of the House Appropriations Committee and Chairman Nita Lowey (D-NY) of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, which have jurisdiction over funding for the World Bank, the IMF and other international financial institutions, as well as Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) of the House Financial Services Committee and Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy, which have responsibility for the authorization of funds for these institutions.  

    A copy of the letter is below.


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                                   

Chairman, House Appropriations Committee
REP. NITA M. LOWEY                                                                    
Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

Chairman, House Financial Services Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy


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