WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is lowering the volume in a long-running argument between Congress and the executive branch over when, if ever, a president has the power to bypass federal statutes he has signed into law.

The administration will consider itself free to disregard new laws it considers unconstitutional, especially in cases where it has previously voiced objections elsewhere, White House officials said.

The White House disclosed the shift when asked why it had not put out a signing statement last month, when Obama signed a $447 billion spending bill for 2010 that contained several provisions that restricted executive power in ways that the administration had previously asserted were unconstitutional.

"The administration's views about certain provisions in the omnibus spending bill had previously been publicly communicated," said Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, "so it wasn't necessary to duplicate them in a signing statement."

Legal scholars said the approach will make it harder to track which statutes the White House believes it can disregard.

Harvard law Prof. Jack Goldsmith argued that the approach would "not be terribly consequential" in practice because the executive branch can still override a provision its legal team later pronounces unconstitutional. But, he said, it will mean "somewhat less accountability."