House overwhelmingly rejects signing statement

The House rebuked President Obama for trying to ignore restrictions to international aid payments, voting overwhelmingly for an amendment forcing the administration to abide by its constraints.

House members approved an amendment by a 429-2 vote to have the Obama administration pressure the World Bank to strengthen labor and environmental standards and require a Treasury Department report on World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) activities. The amendment to a 2010 funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations was proposed by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), but it received broad bipartisan support.

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The conditions on World Bank and IMF funding were part of the $106 billion war supplemental bill that was passed last month. Obama, in a statement made as he signed the bill, said that he would ignore the conditions.

They would "interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments, or by requiring consultation with the Congress prior to such negotiations or discussions," Obama said in the signing statement.

Senior Democrats and Republicans railed against the notion that the president could ignore a law they had passed and he had signed.

"We do this not just on behalf of this institution, but on behalf of this democracy," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "There's kind of a unilateralism, an undemocratic, unreachable way about these signing statements."

President George W. Bush had used signing statements to ignore a number of provisions in bills that he signed into law, frustrating Democrats in Congress. One Bush signing statement allowed the administration to ignore a provision banning the torture of terror detainees in situations threatening the nation's security.

Frank and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said that one way they could get presidents to stop issuing signing statements casting aside laws would be to refuse to fund their priorities. The amendment passed Thursday seeks to nullify Obama's signing statement by withholding funds from any agreement involving the Treasury Department that doesn't follow the conditions set out in the supplemental bill.

"The signal we send to the Treasury is very clear: Ignore statute at your peril," Kirk said.

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The U.S. funding for the IMF, which will come in the form of a $108 billion credit line, was a sticking point in negotiations over the war supplemental bill. House Republicans opposed the legislation despite their support for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan because they viewed the IMF funding as an unnecessary "global bailout." House and Senate leaders included constraints on the IMF and World Bank funding as a way to ensure support from lawmakers skeptical over sending more money abroad, said House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

"Sometimes, the only way the votes can be found to provide the funds the admin wants is to provide certain limitations on the money," Obey said Thursday in a floor speech criticizing Obama's signing statement.

The State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill that contained the amendment was expected to win passage late Thursday. Both Democratic and Republican appropriators spoke in support of it during the floor debate Thursday afternoon.