If Bush Is Such a Strong Leader, How Come He Hasn't Cast a Single Veto?





Mr. Levy is a professor history at York College in York, Penn., and a writer for the History News Service.

Not since James Garfield resided in the White House in 1881 has a President failed to exercise his veto power. Since Garfield's residency was shortened to mere months by an assassin's bullet, we have to go back to 1825, when John Quincy Adams served out his full term without vetoing a single bill.

Ironically, Bush casts himself as a man of principles who, unlike his opponent, is ready, willing and able to stand up to political pressure. His record of having signed every single measure that has crossed his desk suggests otherwise. Not even Congress's greatest admirers think every act it passes is a winner. Bush's refusal to send bills back to Congress helps account for the rapid growth in non-discretionary spending and the metamorphosis of the record federal budget surplus in 2000 into the largest deficit ever today.

Certainly over the past four years the President has had plenty of opportunities to send pork-laden measures back to Congress. Just this past week, Congress sent to President Bush the "American Jobs Creation Act." Initially conceived as a way to counter the rescission of $5 billion of U.S. subsidies to exporters that the World Trade Organization had ruled illegal, the bill grew into a $140 billion giveaway to special interests. Not surprisingly, pundits immediately coined this measure the Corporate Pork Bill. Rather than vetoing it and demanding that Congress cut out the many add-ons, Bush has pledged to sign the act.

The Republican domination of Congress does not alone explain Bush's record of agreeing to every bill that has crossed his desk. During the 1960s, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, yet Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy still found a need to veto thirty and twenty-one bills, respectively. During the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt vetoed hundreds of bills passed by members of his own party. Harry Truman faced both Republican and Democratic Congresses in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet he repeatedly affirmed his reputation as a man who took personal responsibility -- "the buck stops here" -- by vetoing bills he considered either a threat to America's basic liberties or fiscally irresponsible. Even Calvin Coolidge, one of George W. Bush's role models in terms of fiscal prudence, found fifty bills passed by a like-minded Republican Congress in the 1920s offensive enough to reject.

While it would be wrong to suggest that president should exercise the veto wantonly, it is not coincidental that only one president who refused to exorcise a single bill was re-elected. The American public understands that special interests and lobbyists exert tremendous pressure on Congress to fund pet projects and create tax loopholes. They look to their presidents to exercise their constitutionally granted veto power to provide a check and balance against these forces. Certainly, a president who has not said no once in his entire presidency is not a strong leader.


This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


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Joey Johnson - 6/8/2005

"While it would be wrong to suggest that president should exercise the veto wantonly, it is not coincidental that only one president who refused to exorcise a single bill was re-elected."

Yes, it is coincidental. The fact that it happened only once is actually proof that it is rather than it is not.


"Certainly, a president who has not said no once in his entire presidency is not a strong leader."

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. The author needs better justification as to why just the will of one person should be imposed upon the majority. It might very well be that Bush respects the decision of the majority and believes that the veto should be used only in exigent circumstances. Furthermore, if the Democrats had complete control of the legislature, I daresay we would see more vetos. It is a poor understanding of politics that this one point was not considered.



Joey Johnson - 6/8/2005

""Certainly, a president who has not said no once in his entire presidency is not a strong leader."

Let us ask the Iraqis and those in Afghanistan if Bush is not a strong leader.


Joey Johnson - 6/8/2005

"Certainly, a president who has not said no once in his entire presidency is not a strong leader."

The author also fails to understand party politics. The Senate and House is controlled by the Republicans. Bills coming to the Republican president and that have already been approved by the Republican-controlled government are not going to be vetoed.

Consequently, the whole argument in this article is inanely flawed. I daresay that if the Senate was controlled by Democrats, we would see several vetoes!


Joey Johnson - 6/8/2005

<"The Republican domination of Congress does not alone explain Bush's record of agreeing to every bill that has crossed his desk.">

No, but it explains 95% of it. Furthermore, using Kennedy and Johnson--from over 30 years ago--as an example of presidents still vetoing when their party controls the government is quite thin. They actually did this in agreement with their party officials. That is, the party sent the bills to them knowing very well these presidents were going to veto them.

The author should research and discover why the party did this in each of the 51 instances between the presidents where this occurred.

Bush and the current Republican government have figured out a way around this. The president no longer has to veto controversial bills in order to help protect various members of his party who voted for those bills. You should also understand that many legislators vote for a bill knowing full well that the president will veto it. This also is often worked out in advance.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 11/7/2004

Actually, Bush did threaten to use veto power at least on one occasion, to my knowledge. He threatened to veto the 87 billion dollar appropriation bill for Iraq and Afghanistan... how soon we forget, Joey.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/30/politics/main580877.shtml

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