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President Obama: Veto That

Though President Obama has so far used his signature to pass legislation into law, it is now time to use his veto pen in order to stop an expected torrent of regressive bills. (Photo: White House/Public domain)

It’s time for President Obama to ready his veto pen.

Obama has only vetoed two bills during his tenure. By contrast, George W. Bush vetoed 12, Bill Clinton vetoed 37, George H.W. Bush vetoed 44 and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Harry S. Truman vetoed 250!

Things will look different by the end of Obama’s term. The big question is: How different? Will the president veto only the most extreme measures, or will he act aggressively to veto destructive measures disguised as “reasonable,” or hidden away in “must-pass” spending and other bills?

Faced with a hostile McConnell-Boehner Congress, the president has indicated that he will oppose and veto measures that threaten core elements of his agenda. To his credit, he has signaled that he will veto the Keystone XL legislation. And he told NPR, “I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that [veto] pen out. And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water.”

The U.S. House of Representatives will continue to pass legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank and the like. Most of those measures won’t be able to overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. Those that do, the president will surely veto.

But that’s not where the game is.

Much more important is the real agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Big Business. The Chamber invested very heavily in the 2014 elections, to defeat populist-minded tea party candidates somewhat independent of Big Business control in primaries, and to elect corporate-minded Republicans in the general election. The Chamber did very well. Now it intends to obtain the return on its investment – not just with symbolic efforts like bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but measures that become law.


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The corporate game plan is to pass smaller bills that seem more “reasonable” and that are able to obtain enough support from business-friendly Democrats to win 60 votes in the Senate, the number needed to defeat a filibuster. They aim also to include corporate-friendly provisions in must-pass bills. And then they hope to win the support, or least acquiescence, of President Obama.

The proving ground for this strategy was the end-of-the-year 2014 “cromnibus” – the spending bill that passed just before the new year. This bill included a grab bag of non-germane favors to Big Business and the super-rich: a significant rollback of what remains of campaign spending rulesthe elimination of a key Dodd-Frank measure, drafted by Citigroupauthorization for private pension payment cutsrolling back a key truck safety rule; and much more. The administration said it opposed many or most of these provisions, but it strongly lobbied for passage of the bill nonetheless.

There is of course room for compromise in Washington. The government must function. And no one gets everything they want in Washington, or in life.

But our government should not be in the business of helping giant corporations pollute more, rip off consumers more, offshore more jobs, pay even lower taxes than they do, obtain still more corporate welfare, more easily skirt health and safety protections or otherwise imperil and weaken the nation.

For every piece of legislation crossing his desk that would make America weaker, less safe, less just, less fair, dirtier, unhealthier and less secure – well, the president should veto that.

As the new Congress begins its work and talk of bipartisanship and breaking gridlock reaches a fever pitch, now is the time to commit to basic principles. It is crucial that President Obama reject measures using the cloak of “bipartisanship” and the false patina of “reasonableness” – code for not-quite-as-extremist – to advance the interests of giant corporations and the super-rich, at the expense of regular Americans. It is vital that he commit to veto budgetary, appropriations and other “must pass” legislation that includes harmful riders.

When presented with measures, big or small, that injure the country, we need President Obama to say, “I’m going to veto that.” Go to, and add your voice to those calling on him to do exactly that.

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.


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