Seven years into his term President Bush has just now started to use his veto pen. He wants to demonstrate he is standing up to a Democratically-controlled Congress.
However, his use of the veto may turn out to be a critical part of putting a Democrat in the White House in 2009.
President Bush did not veto any legislation during his first six years in office because he had a compliant Republican-controlled Congress for most of that time. Democrats controlled the Senate only briefly and controlled both houses for the great bulk of Bush’s first six years as president.
Now that Democrats control both houses, the veto pen has been unleashed. In the words of Brer Rabbit from the Uncle Remus stories, this may be a classic case of “don’t throw me in the briar patch.” Democrats may be getting exactly what they want to demonstrate why voters should put a Democrat in the White House in the next election.
It goes something like this: A Democratic House and Senate can pass any number of progressive bills like the ones dealing with stem cell research and setting timelines for withdrawal from Iraq. However, all their good work is stymied by a Republican president since Democrats don’t have the necessary two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to override a veto.
Since it is unlikely that enough Democrats will be elected to the House or Senate to override a presidential veto, the only way the will of the people can be implemented is by electing a Democratic president who won’t veto necessary legislation.
Since 1969, divided government has been the rule rather than the exception. The only times that one party controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency were under Democrats Jimmy Carter (1977-80), Democrats under Bill Clinton (1993-94) and Republicans under George W. Bush (2003-2006). For the remainder of the last 38 years, a presidential veto could block just about anything Congress wanted to do if the president didn’t concur.
For much of this time the public seemed to prefer the built-in gridlock that divided government makes inevitable. But not so now. The public wants action on getting us out of Iraq but President Bush stubbornly is standing in the way.
Thus by using his veto pen and acting macho, President Bush may well be making the case for why there needs to be a Democrat in the White House. That doesn’t mean that the public will like everything that could come from a united government, but they may just be willing to give it a try.
And there are still some brakes built into the system. The 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster in the Senate makes it difficult for the majority party to do everything that it wants. It is not likely that Democrats will pick up enough seats (nine) in the next election to be able to end a filibuster. Thus some compromise will still be necessary.
But in the end, if he vetoes enough bills, President Bush may just help elect a Democratic president in 2008.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.