On Vetoes, Context is Everything

I happened to look back at the comment thread for Thursday’s Day’s End, and realized that the brief note about Obama’s very low veto record changing if Republicans take over the Senate got some derisive responses.

To be clear, I don’t think the number of presidential vetoes will rise because the president is any more or less likely to “grow a spine” or “fight back” or in any other way change his attitude. But in the event of a Republican takeover he won’t have Harry Reid and Democratic Committee Chairmen steadily burying House-passed legislation that would otherwise have provoked or at least invited a veto. Moreover, as Paul Waldman notes in the piece I was mentioning, Republicans will be eager with control of both chambers to get on the record with legislation they’ve promised to advance, at least early in the next session. So Obama could be passive, or lukewarm, or even fall back into his early rhetoric about bipartisanship, and he’d still almost certainly have to start issuing a lot more vetoes.

Now a variable in this dynamic will be the extent to which Senate Democrats in the minority will be willing to drop their regular complaints about the routine use of filibusters by the GOP on plain old legislation and begin doing the same thing themselves. Maybe they will, but I suspect given the positive prospects for a successful Democratic counterattack on Senate control in 2016, and the urgent need to retire the 60-vote requirement if Democrats hang onto the White House and retake Congress (but without 60 Senate votes), they’re more likely to use filibusters sparingly, particularly if the only reason to take a different tack is to protect a truly lame duck president from having to pick up his veto pen. And unless I missed something, I don’t recall Obama making his reluctance to veto obnoxious bills a big part of his “bipartisanship” pitch, even when it was a regular part of his rhetorical repertoire.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.