April 5, 2018
When our Founding Fathers framed our government in the , they were careful to institute checks and balances that prohibited a consolidation of power. However, these safeguards only work if the branches utilize them and hold each other accountable.
As the Founders outlined the requirements and restrictions for the three branches of government, they included measures each could take to keep the others in check. (see ) In , they provide the president veto power to stop any legislation they felt overreaching, unconstitutional, too expensive, or just wrong. Likewise, Congress was granted the ability to override that veto, especially in instances where presidents put their agenda over the people.
Latin for “I forbid,” President George Washington took three years before exercising this Constitutional action. The House tried to redesign the method of calculating the number of representatives per state. States divided their number of citizens by 30,000 to obtain how many U.S. Representatives they sent to Washington. As some states had large “remainder” values, the current Congress wanted to find an easier number to divide by. The action would have primarily increased Northern elected officials while Southern states would have virtually remained unchanged. Yet altering the process at all was deemed unconstitutional by Washington. Therefore, on April 5, 1792, he used his veto power for the first time.
He and other presidents utilized this ability over the next 70 years. Similarly, Congress also exercised their right to override those vetoes, yet they were primarily on minor pieces of legislations. That is until Democrat President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 on March 27.
Congress had sent him this Act in 1865, which he vetoed. Following the ratification of the on December 6, 1865, Congress again passed this Civil Rights bill in 1866 to support the abolishment of slavery in the new Amendment. (see ) It ensured those of African descent born in America, whether former slaves or always free, were citizens of the United States.
“That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.”
Guaranteeing citizenship to blacks, it also ensured equal protection under the law as well as other provisions of equality. However, Johnson, a southern Democrat, refused to show any support in granting any sort of rights to blacks, who he judged inferior. As he wrote in a February 8, 1866, letter:
“Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same.”
Johnson returned the bill to Congress, stating in his objection:
“I can not approve consistently with my sense of duty to the whole people and my obligations to the ,” claiming it infringed on state and private rights.
Fed up with Johnson’s constant blockage of such legislation, Congress exercised its power to keep the president in check. On April 6, 1866, the Senate voted to override Johnson’s veto, with the House following suit three days later. (see ) It was also the first time Congress overrode a presidential veto on such a major piece of legislation. It was the beginning of the road to Johnson’s impeachment in the House on February 24, 1868. However, on May 26, the Senate fell short of the 2/3rds majority to convict him.
Regardless of its passage, others also questioned Congress’ ability to produce such a law as it possibly encroached on state’s rights and private citizen’s rights. This was rectified with the , granting the Act’s provisions and protections Constitutionally.
Per the , to veto a bill, the president must return the bill to Congress with his objections within 10 days. Otherwise, it will become law regardless of a presidential signature. But like with all good politicians, a loophole was found. A clause included in , addressed instances when Congress was adjourned.
“If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.” (Emphasis mine)
Therefore, if a recess period was approaching, presidents began setting some bills aside without taking any action. Known as the Pocket Veto, the president just “pocketed” the bill, killing it without returning it to Congress. So, instead of just having to override a bill already passed in Congress, legislatures would have to start the process all over again to pass the bill a second time. Over the years, the practice has been a contentious point between the Legislative and Executive branches, with some reforms occurring.
Another veto disagreement between presidents and Congress is the “Line Item Veto.” Republican President Donald Trump recently requested this ability, yet legislators refuse to grant it as it would destroy their power. Congressmen are often able to get bad policies and excessive spending items specific to their constituents passed by adding them to other bigger, more necessary bills that are needed and very likely to pass. The “Line Item Veto” would allow the president to veto these inessential pork items while still allowing the main bill to become law. While a large portion of Americans want the president to have this ability, Congressmen continue to ignore those they represent so they can buy votes with frivolous spending.
The power of the presidential veto and the Congressional override are safeguards given to those branches to keep each other under control. However, Americans are seeing more and more cases where the president neglects his responsibility to limit Congress by signing any bill they send him just so something gets done. Likewise, Congresses have allowed presidents to veto very important pieces of legislation without any pushback, because they were more concerned about avoiding media criticism than doing what was right.
America recently witnessed this as Trump promised to sign any bill Congress sent him regarding immigration even if he didn’t agree. Liberty, this is so incredibly dangerous as he is pledging to Congress that even if they send him a bill that was completely unconstitutional, in wide opposition to the American people, and even destructive for the country, he would sign it anyway. That is a dereliction of his duty.
Likewise, he rightly threatened to veto the recent massive and disastrous spending bill heading through Congress as a vast majority of Americans cheered. However, he leveled the threat after both chambers already passed it. He then proceeded to sign it anyway, promising to never do it again.
During the Obama Administration, Congress overrode Democrat President Barack Obama’s veto on a bill allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for the disaster. (see ) During his presidency, Obama was extremely hostile to our allies while dangerously friendly to our Middle Eastern foes. Fearing this was the basis of his veto, Congress properly overrode his veto, allowing families to move forward in seeking justice.
Liberty, if these important Constitutional provisions, including the veto and other important checks and balances, are not properly used and protected, they will be lost. Like children who know they will not be punished, a president and Congress will become wildly out of control if they are not held accountable. When that occurs, “We The People” will have lost our rights as the leaders of the country as those in Washington will have grabbed unprecedented power without being restrained. They will continue to write and pass laws with only their own agendas, desires and benefits in mind. Regardless of popular opinion, the main purpose of Washington D.C. is not to drown the citizens with laws, regulations, and red tape. They are not suppose to be our watchdog. On the contrary, their most important job is to be the watchdog of the other branches.
Likewise, it is the job of “We The People” to be the watchdog for all of Washington. We have the power to repeal Congressmen, or vote any or all elected officials out. Therefore, Liberty, if Washington is getting out of control, then we are partly responsible. We must educate ourselves regarding our rights and use our veto power on any elected official who tries to take them away.
That’s my 2 cents.
VIEWS AND VETOES