Obama, McCain promise respect for Congress

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Both candidates have expressed an unwillingness to step on congressional toes and duplicate the Bush administration’s expansion of executive powers if elected president.

In an interview with The Washington Times in October, Mr. McCain said he would step back from some of the executive authority Mr. Bush has claimed, including the president’s frequent use of signing statements - written pronouncements issued by a president when signing a bill into law that shades its meaning.

“I would veto the bills or say, Look, I don’t like it, but I’ll obey, you know, the law that’s passed by Congress and signed by the president,’ ” he said. “I think the signing statements was not a correct implementation of the power of the executive. I think it was overstepping.”

Mr. McCain blasted the current administration’s varying assertions of privilege for Vice President Dick Cheney, saying, “I don’t agree with Dick Cheney’s allegation that he’s part of both the executive and legislative branch.”

Mr. Obama also repeatedly has accused the administration of overextending its powers. In a Boston Globe questionnaire in December 2007, Mr. Obama said that, if elected president, he wouldn’t use signing statements “to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.”

“The problem with this administration is that it has attached signing statements to legislation in an effort to change the meaning of the legislation,” said Mr. Obama, adding that it was a “clear abuse” of executive authority.

But don’t count on either candidate to significantly scale back executive power, Mr. Healy said.

“I don’t think men who have done what’s necessary to become president and have gone through the enormous, endless labor that requires [will] arrive in the office and say, ‘You know, I need less power,’ ” he said.

Even Mr. Obama, who has campaigned as a reformer and has tried to portray Mr. McCain as a Bush lackey, is unlikely to diminish the powers of the presidency if elected, Mr. Healy said.

“People who think that Barack Obama is going to end George Bush’s imperial presidency are really kidding themselves,” he said. “People who railed against the expansion of executive power under Bush are going to see things differently when their team is in office.”

Both candidates also have promised to trim pork-barrel projects from spending bills, with Mr. McCain going as far as to say he would eliminate all such legislative “earmarks.”

Such a move would be met with strong resistance from many members of Congress, who routinely use the earmark system to pay for pet projects in their home state or district.

But tension between the executive and legislative branches isn’t necessarily a bad situation, as it helps foster the checks and balances that the framers of the Constitution deemed crucial to the survival of American democracy, many political experts say.

“I think the idea of the legislative and executive branches working together is dramatically overvalued,” Mr. Healy said. “In our Constitution and in the Federalist Papers, gridlock is good - it’s not a pejorative term.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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