Eight Years, Twelve Vetoes: Why President Bush Chose to Ignore his Veto Power

By Jamie E. Kay
2010, Vol. 2 No. 05 | pg. 1/1

Long held as one of the most prized executive powers, the presidential veto in American politics grants the sitting president the power to unilaterally halt any piece of legislation. Though the word “veto” does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution, it is generally accepted that Article I, Section VII grants the sitting president with this right. Specifically, the Constitution reads:

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approves, he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider.1

As one of the most important powers given to the president, one must ask why any would take such a powerful tool for granted. For five and a half years, however, President Bush failed to use the veto even once. Not until July 19, 2006 did he finally veto legislation, halting a congressional bill that would lift certain funding restrictions for embryonic stem-cell research.2 This reluctance made President Bush the first president to go an entire four year term without using the veto in 239 years. The other veto-less presidents include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and James Garfield (four of whom served only partial terms).3 So what compelled George Bush to break away from the other thirty-six U.S. presidents and pass up the right to veto? One would think that the veto would align perfectly with the Bush style of governance. Bush painted himself as an action man and pushed hard for strong executive authority. The veto demonstrates one of the most potent uses of presidential power; so why did Bush continually pass up the chance say no to Congress?

Before looking at the vetoes, or lack thereof, during the Bush years, it may be helpful to look at the actual veto process in American government. The United States Constitution states that if a president refuses to sign the bill into law, thus rendering it vetoed, he has ten days, excluding Sundays, to return the bill to either the Senate or the House of Representatives, depending on where it originated. His objections must be written, and they must be taken into consideration by both houses upon return. Once the bill is returned, the veto must be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both houses. If achieved, the bill becomes law even without the president’s signature. If either house fails to reach a two-thirds majority, it may choose to make changes to the bill and present it to the president again, or the bill will fail to become law.4

Though the president is traditionally required to either sign a bill or return it to Congress with his objections, unsigned within ten days, there is another method to vetoing legislation: the “pocket veto”. If the president does fail to return the bill within ten days, the bill will pass unsigned.5 Such a time limit is necessary to the legislative process as without it, the president could effectively halt any piece of legislation indefinitely.6 However, the president also has the ability to indirectly veto a bill. Article I, Section VII of the Constitution states that if unreturned the bill will become law “unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law”.7 Thus, if Congress adjourns before the ten day period has concluded, and the president chooses not to sign the bill, it is in effect vetoed and is referred to as a “pocket veto”. A pocket veto, unlike a regular veto, cannot be overridden, making it an extremely useful tool in the president’s arsenal. President Bush used this power only once, compared to his father’s fifteen pocket vetoes and Reagan’s thirty-nine.8

The use of the presidential veto throughout American history can best be described as a bell-curve. Like President Bush, early presidents used the veto power hardly ever. The best explanation for this inactivity was simply that not very much legislation was passed at the time. Without fast-moving transportation or communication systems, bills took a considerably long time to construct. Additionally, because parties were not yet fully formed, early presidents enjoyed congresses that were more agreeable to their political desires and less likely to split down partisan lines.9

The first real significant use of the veto power came during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Like President Bush, Jackson was an ardent supporter of strong executive authority. He had numerous conflicts with Congress and sparked tremendous controversy by vetoing twelve bills, a large number for the time period.10 Use of the veto slowed after Jackson but grew exponentially after the Civil War, particularly in issues concerning reconstruction and the rebuilding of the Union. Many of these, however, tended to be private bills, asking for pensions for injured Civil War veterans. Believing many of them to be fraudulent, Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland vetoed the majority of them.11

The use of the veto power exploded, however, with the outbreak of World War II. Franklin Roosevelt, another strong executive, in his twelve years in office, vetoed 635 bills, by far the most of any president. Though Roosevelt enjoyed a Democratic majority in Congress, many historians believe that he used to veto primarily to keep Congress “in line” and assert his power as president.12Since Roosevelt, the number of vetoes issued by modern presidents has declined, though still remained somewhat stable, until, that is, the presidency of George W. Bush.13

Bush’s unwillingness to veto is particularly perplexing when examining his tenure as Texas governor. As governor, Bush was never shy to use the power of the veto. From 1995 through 1999, Bush vetoed ninety-seven bills, more than eight times the number vetoed in his presidency.14 This behavior, however, would not continue. For five and half years, Bush never used his veto power. It wasn’t until a few months into his second term that Bush would give his first hints of his intent to veto.

On May 24, 2005, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, a Congressional bill that would lift certain funding restrictions for embryonic stem-cell research, passed through the House of Representatives with a 238-194 vote. The president immediately threatened to veto the bill. However, two months later, the bill passed through the Senate with a 63-37 vote (four short of the sixty-seven votes needed to override a veto). The next day the bill was vetoed by the president.15

The day of the veto, Bush delivered a speech at a White House ceremony attended by mothers and children born from what President Bush dubbed “adopted” embryos, which had been left unused by fertility clinics. "These boys and girls are not spare parts," he told the crowd. "They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells."16

The bill itself had pitted religious and socially conservative lawmakers against more moderate Republicans. Senator Arlen Spector, the key sponsor of the bill and a recent cancer survivor, as well as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate’s only physician, were both vocal in their disapproval of the president’s veto. Frist remarked, “Given the potential of this research and the limitations of the existing [human embryonic stem cell] lines eligible for federally funded research, I think additional lines should be made available."17

Though the Senate vote was narrowly below the needed number to override the bill, the vote in the House was far narrower (286 votes would have been needed). Ultimately, with only 235 House members voting to override the bill, Bush’s first veto prevailed.18

Bush’s reasoning for this historic veto may have been a calculated strategy. In 2001, Bush “announced he would bar federal funds for research using new embryonic stem cell lines”.19 Conservative groups had been lobbying Bush to live up to his campaign promises and with an approval rating hovering around a disappointing 40%, Bush may have been feeling pressure to reach out to his socially conservative base.20

The next veto, however, would not come for almost another year. The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, a 124-billion dollar “war-spending bill that would call for the start of a withdrawal of American combat troops from the conflict”, was introduced to Congress in March, 2007.21 It passed through the House with a narrow 218-212 vote and soon passed through the Senate with a 51-47 vote.22 Throughout the process Bush threatened to veto the bill, saying that he would not authorize a bill that set up timetable for withdrawal.23

Upon passage, Bush lived up to his promise and the bill was almost immediately vetoed by the president, who called the bill a “prescription for chaos and confusion”.24 Democrats quickly conceded that at such a narrow vote they were not in a position to override.25 For the second time, Bush had his veto sustained. In the wake of the failed bill, a new 120-billion dollar war spending bill quickly passed through Congress minus any timetable for withdrawal, and was signed by the President on May 27, 2005.26

Despite his 2005 victory, Bush had not yet won his stem cell battle. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, a second bill aimed to “allow federal funding for research using stem cells derived from human embryos”27 passed through the Senate with a 63-34 vote and through the House with a 247-176 vote.28  

In a statement Bush said, "I am disappointed the leadership of Congress recycled an old bill that would simply overturn our country's carefully balanced policy on embryonic stem cell research." He went on to say, "American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support deliberate destruction of human embryos. Crossing that line would be a grave mistake. For that reason, I will veto the bill."29 Bush followed through on his threat to Congress and vetoed the bill on June 20, 2007. The veto went unchallenged, and Bush was able to hold on to his 2006 victory against stem cell research.30

Bush’s next legislative battle came when the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) came up for a five-year reauthorization under the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007. Funding for the program would have cost over 25-billion dollars to sustain at the existing level for the next five years, but was later expanded to 60 billion dollars in the House, which decided to increase the “enrollment of about 6.6 million children to more than 10 million”. The measure passed with surprisingly bi-partisan support, passing the Senate with a 68-31 vote and the House with a 265-159 vote.31

President Bush, however, was vocal in his disapproval of the bill and noted that he wished to sustain funding at 25-billion dollars. On October 3, 2007 Bush vetoed the bill. “It is estimated that if this program were to become law, one out of every three persons that would subscribe to the new expanded SCHIP would leave private insurance,” the president reasoned. “The policies of the government ought to be to help people find private insurance, not federal coverage. And that’s where the philosophical divide comes in.”32 Two weeks later the House voted in an attempt to override the bill, but fell short with a 273-156 vote, seventeen votes short of winning a two-thirds majority.33

While campaigning against the SCHIP funding, President Bush was also clashing with Congress over the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. The bill, which passed 394-25 in the House and 91-4 in the Senate, received intense bipartisan support.34 The bill authorized the “Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, to carry out specified projects for navigation, environmental restoration, ecosystem restoration, hurricane and storm damage reduction, and flood damage reduction”, in addition to a number of other provisions.35

Despite the bill’s heavy support, Bush criticized it “calling it too costly and complaining that the 900 projects it authorized would overtax the Army Corps of Engineers.”36 He ultimately vetoed the bill on November 2, 2007, but, for the first time, Bush was facing serious opposition to his veto. His opposition to such a heavily supported bill ignited criticism from both sides. "You should respect the Senate, the House, the Congress and American people because we are elected, too," said Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. "We are close to the people. We know what their needs are."37 When the bill went to vote, it was successfully overridden 361-54 by the House and 79-14 by the Senate.38 Though he had been successful in his first four attempts, Bush’s fifth veto was successfully overridden by Congress.

Soon after, Bush would veto yet another spending bill. This bill, The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008, would have provided funding for education, health care, and job training programs and totaled more than $459-billion dollars.39 Like the Water Bill, this new spending bill received bipartisan support, passing 276-140 in the House and 75-19 in the Senate.40 But, like previous bills, President Bush complained, declaring the bill “wasteful spending”. In addition, the bill also thwarted the president’s desire to direct funding to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democratic Senators, such as Nancy Pelosi balked at the assertion, claiming, "President Bush and his congressional allies demand hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Iraq - none of it paid for."41 However, the bill was not able to be overridden. The House sustained the veto in a 277-141 vote, giving the president yet another narrow success.42

Unfortunately for President Bush, his clash with Congress over SCHIP funding would continue. The Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007, passed through the House with a 267-142 vote and through the Senate with a 64-30 vote, similar to the votes on the first bill.43 Though revised, the new bill was similar to the first in that it tried to increase funding for the program by 35-billion dollars over a five year period, far more than the additional five-billion dollars proposed by Bush. The president also complained that the bill would include adults, as well as families with an average income above the U.S. median and would raise taxes, primarily by placing a sixty-one cent raise on the cigarette tax. Republicans were wary of Bush’s disapprovals, however. SCHIP was a popular program with the public, and lawmakers were concerned that if they sided with the president they may be seen as being unsympathetic to children. Bush argued that he was being left out of negotiations, but Democrats argued that they had tried to reach out to the president and were denied. Senator Harry Reid told the press he approached Bush to discuss the bill and was told, “No, I'm not moving, meet with my staff”.44

As expected, on December 12, 2007 Bush vetoed the bill. Like the first bill, Congress did not realistically have the power to override the veto. The House voted to delay an override attempt until January 23, 2008. The vote, however, never took place and the veto was sustained.45

Just two weeks later the President issued another veto; however, for the first time in his presidency he made use of the pocket veto. The legislation at hand, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which would have authorized appropriations for military activities of the Department of Defense, passed quickly through the House and Senate with respective votes of 397-27 and 92-3.46 However, Bush took immediate issue with several provisions of the bill. His main objection was over concerns that Iraqi assets in American banks could be vulnerable to claims from victims of Saddam Hussein. The announcement was surprising to many lawmakers, who expected Bush to fully support the bill. Many complained that the veto would prevent military families from receiving the 3.5 percent pay raise, as well as improved health-care coverage outlined in the bill. Bush was further accused of bowing down to the demands of the Iraqi government, at the expense of American soldiers. With Congress ready to adjourn, Bush refused to sign the bill into law, effectively rendering his first “pocket veto”.47

A revision of the bill was, however, passed through Congress and signed by the President in late January. The bill included the 3.5% pay raise, but also exempted Iraq from the provision that would have potentially allowed Iraqi assets to be frozen in lawsuits against the country, so long as doing so promoted Iraq’s reconstruction and the country remained a “reliable ally” in the war on terror.48

Months later, Bush once again vetoed a bill over disagreements on the handling of the war on terror. The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which would have “authorized appropriations for fiscal year 2008 for intelligence and intelligence-related activities”49, would have, in addition, prohibited acts of torture, such as the extremely controversial act of waterboarding, a technique in which a detainee is immobilized and subjected to simulated drowning. Several agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed that such harsh techniques were ineffective. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the agency’s director issued a statement to his employees that the army field manual did not “exhaust the universe of lawful interrogation techniques”. Others, including General David H. Petraeus, argued that Bush’s interrogation techniques were unneeded and could be harmful to American prisoners of war abroad.50 The vote in Congress was relatively narrow with the House voting 222-199 and the Senate voting 51-45. Bush vehemently opposed the legislation, defending his position on interrogation tactics, claiming, “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists”.51 Vetoing the bill on March 8, 2008, Bush demonstrated his desire, once again, to push for increased executive authority. Without the votes to override, the veto was sustained by the House in a 225-188 vote.52

The next presidential veto arrived quickly, after the House and Senate passed the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 with respective 318-106 and 81-15 votes.53 The bill attempted to respond to the forecasted five percent raise in food prices in the next year by expanding the federal food stamp program by increasing the program to include 28- million Americans. Funding for land stewardship and biofuel development were also included in the bill. Bush argued that the bill unreasonably increased crop subsidies and would largely benefit wealthy farmers rather than average Americans and would serve as a determent to the freer farm industry Bush desired. Congress did not respond to Bush’s criticisms, and he eventually vetoed the legislation on May 21, 2008.54

The veto, however, was easily overridden by the House with a 316-108 vote, far beyond the two-thirds majority needed. The Senate followed with an 82-13 vote, successfully overriding Bush’s veto and passing the bill.55 For the second time, Bush’s veto had failed.

There had been, however, a flaw in the passage of the Farm Bill. While the bill was passed in both the House and Senate and the president’s veto had been overridden by both the House and Senate, the bill that was vetoed by the president was not the actual bill passed. The version vetoed by Bush was missing Title II, the trade title. Since the bill vetoed by the president had technically not passed through Congress, the bill could not constitutionally become law. To correct the mistake the House and Senate passed a near identical bill to the previous one. The president once again vetoed the new bill on June 18, 2008, but was overridden by both houses later that day.56

Bush’s final veto came in July, 2008 when he vetoed the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, a bill that would “reverse steep payment cuts for doctors participating in Medicare”. The bill was considered to be a top priority to many lawmakers, as only a few weeks earlier payment cuts of more than ten percent to doctors participating in Medicare took effect, causing some doctors to scale back on service to many senior citizens. To offset the cost, the bill would lower large government subsidies given to private insurers participating in the Medicare program. Bush argued the cut would reduce choices for the elderly and discourage participation in the Medicare program.57 Organization such as the AMA and AARP, however, lobbied heavily to support the bill.58

The bill passed through the House and the Senate with strong bipartisan support, receiving a 355-59 vote in the House and a 69-30 vote in the Senate. A week later the president vetoed the bill, but was overridden in both houses later that day. The veto, his twelfth, would also be his last.59

In his eight years in office George Bush vetoed twelve bills and was overridden four times. From 1789 through 2010, the veto has been used 2,563 times by U.S. presidents, making fifty-eight the average number of vetoes issues by a U.S. president. One hundred-ten of those vetoes have been overridden (roughly four percent). Of his twelve vetoes, Bush had four overridden (thirty-three percent). This leaves him behind only James Buchanan (fifty-six percent) and Andrew Johnson (fifty-two percent) as having the most vetoes overridden by Congressional vote.60 All but one of these vetoes was issued when Congress held a Democratic majority, and while Bush’s use of the veto may have increased later in his presidency, he still remains one of the most reluctant president’s in U.S. history to use the veto.

Some have argued that one reason for the absence of vetoes may simply lie in an overall downward trend in the use of the veto. The pattern of presidential vetoes can be described as a bell curve, slowly rising through the Civil War period, peaking with the Roosevelt administration and declining post-war. While it is true that post-war presidents have not used the veto power to the degree of their predecessors, the distinction lies more in the difference between private and public bills. Private bills are bills that relate to one or a few individuals or entities (such as a business). A public bill, in contrast, refers to the public in whole or large categories or classifications of individuals or entities. Since the end of World War II, Congress has made a considerable effort to focus its attention on public bills, rather than those that may only affect certain individuals. Franklin D. Roosevelt may have vetoed 635 bills, but of those bills only 138 were public bills. Additionally, only 81 of Eisenhower’s 250 vetoed bills and 78 of Truman’s 181 were public. However, the vetoes of more modern presidents were largely of public bills. Forty of Nixon’s 43, 61 of Ford’s 66, and 29 of Carter’s 31 vetoed bills related to public matters.61 So, while the number of actual vetoes has seen a steady decline in the post-war period, the number of public bills vetoed has remained far more stable, seeing only slight peaks and dips with each administration. The Bush presidency, however, brought a fairly substantial drop that cannot merely be explained by an overall downward trend in veto usage.

Another possible explanation for the dearth of presidential vetoes in the George Bush presidency may be the Congressional majority enjoyed by the president in his first term. From 1945-2000, seven out of every ten years housed a divided government. However, until the 2006 elections Bush enjoyed a consistent Republican majority.62 Conservative lobbyist and former House member, Vin Weber, explained that the absence of vetoes in Bush’s first term was indeed a result of a harmonious Republican party. "This was the first time Republicans had full control since the '50s; we wanted to show we could work together as a governing majority," said Weber. "Coming this far without a veto, that's a sign of the party's cohesion and the president's strength."63 The historical evidence on this explanation is mixed, however.

Gerald Ford faced a heavily Democratic controlled Congress and issued a substantial sixty-six vetoes for his three years in office. Likewise, Ronald Reagan, who issued seventy-eight vetoes, only saw a Republican majority in the Senate for three years.64 Perhaps the veto behavior of these presidents and of President Bush can be explained by who controlled at the time. After all, all but one of the bills vetoed by Bush was passed by a Democratic Congress.

Many presidents, however, contradict this pattern. Jackson, the first president to truly utilize the power of the presidential veto, sustained Democratic majorities in his eight years in office. Congress throughout his presidency Franklin D. Roosevelt, was also heavily stacked with Democrats, yet Roosevelt still holds the record for the most vetoes issued by any president. Jimmy Carter, who only served a single term, vetoed thirty-one bills, despite having a comfortable Democratic majority.65 Though it seems reasonable that the Republican Congress of Bush’s first term can explain some of Bush’s disinclination to veto, there must be additional reasons at play.

When Bush entered the 2000 presidential campaign, he ran television ads declaring him a “uniter, not a divider”. The “uniter” persona was one which he continued to push. Following his White House arrival, Bush invited a number of Democrats to meetings and social events. The image was bolstered in 2001 when Bush won over Democrats to garner comprehensive education reform in the No Child Left Behind Act. Furthermore, after September 11, Bush successfully united Congress behind him in his campaign against the war on terror.66 However, Bush’s image as a uniter was not long-lived. Chaos in the Middle East began to polarize the nation and in 2005 a poll on the eve of his inauguration, showed that the public was split on whether Bush was in fact a uniter or a divider.67 A year later Bush saw control of Congress pass to the Democrats, further highlighting the divisive landscape of the government.

Perhaps then the reason for the lack of vetoes in his eight years as president might have been a concerted effort on his part to live up to his uniter image. The use of the veto is inherently a negative power, which in turn can have unfavorable connotations. Presidents who use the veto power liberally may be seen as partisan and obstinate. After all, the veto gives the president an enormous power. Anti-federalists worried when drafting the Constitution that the veto power would be similar to the powers of a king, as in many cases the president need not persuade or compromise with Congress to reach agreement; he can merely “rule”, with little threat of being overridden. For this reason, presidents who do not wish to be viewed as autocratic or stubborn often treat vetoes as a last resort. Grover Cleveland, Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford, all of whom used the veto frequently, clashed heavily with Congress and were often painted as being too partisan.68 Thus, Bush’s reluctance to use the veto may have been a conscious effort to shape and maintain the reputation he desired.

Another possible explanation for the absence of vetoes is the tendency of Bush to rely merely on the veto threat. Though he may have waited five and a half years to veto legislation, he did, however, issue numerous veto threats throughout his presidency. In 2006, five months before his first veto, the Office of Management and Budget, calculated that Bush had made one hundred thirty-five veto threats.69 The number continued to climb in his second term (Bush issued more than twice as many veto threats in 2007 than in any other year of his presidency)70. Veto threats are not scarce in most modern presidencies. However, the number of veto threats issued by President Bush was enormous compared to that of other presidents. Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower rarely issued public veto threats. Nixon and Reagan made threats occasionally, but also followed through on most that they did make. President Clinton, however, issued more than one hundred forty veto threats and may have led the groundwork for Bush’s strategy. 71Whether or not they convey a genuine warning, veto threats can serve many important purposes to a president. They can simply enable an administration to communicate a position, or they can raise the stakes of the debate, forcing compromise. The tactic, though defensive, can be extremely effective. It can cause Congress to kill a bill in its entirety if it feels the threat is realistic and likely to stand or spur them to remove or edit certain provisions to the president’s liking. Studies by Robert Spitzer, one of the key theorists on the presidential veto, suggest that the veto threat may be an incredibly useful tool. Data collected from 1952-200 suggests that 32% of the time veto threats are followed by some sort of compromise and are successful in killing a bill in its entirety 30% of the time.72 President Clinton found tremendous success in the veto threat in the welfare reform battle. By issuing continued veto threats, Clinton was able to win numerous concessions from Congress and ultimately signed the final bill. Though Bush’s political strategy has often been compared to President Reagan, perhaps his veto strategy was truly borrowed from Clinton in an attempt to use the veto threat as a bargaining tool and as a defensive tactic against a Democratic Congress.

Finally, one of the most controversial reasons for the lonely twelve vetoes may rest in the reliance of the president on “signing statements”. When Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act, after being vetoed by Bush in late December, 2008, the president signed the act into law, but also attached a signing statement. The signing statement declared that as president, Bush had the power to bypass four of the provisions set by the bill by declaring them unconstitutional and asserting that he would exercise his right not to enforce them. Bush explained that the act would “impose requirements that could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief”. One of the provisions prohibited the use of taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq". Bush did not elaborate on why the specific provisions were unconstitutional, a common trend in many of his signing statements.73

Signing statements, though frequently used by Bush, have a long history. A signing statement is simply a written message issued by the president when signing a piece of legislation. Such statements are often uncontroversial and can simply state approval of the bill at hand. More controversial signing statements go further by criticizing the content of the bill, often calling it unconstitutional and claiming the right to enforce the bill only in ways the president sees as constitutionally sound. Signing statements of this nature can be traced back to James Monroe and have been employed by many presidents since then. No president, however, used such controversial signing statements with the frequency employed by George W. Bush.74

In eight years Bush wrote signing statements for 140 bills, exempting himself from enforcing over 750 provisions. Many legal scholars have questioned the legality of such statements. The Constitution clearly places legislative authority in the hands of Congress and instructs the president ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.75 Such signing statements virtually render the veto power useless. Why would any president risk being painted as obstinate or partisan when he could simply sign all legislation and choose which pieces he will or will not enforce? Furthermore, when a president vetoes legislation he must do so in its entirety, whereas signing statements enable a president to delete only sections he finds objectionable. This power makes signing statements very similar to a line-item veto, a power that President Bush asked Congress for in 2006 as a means to cut wasteful spending.76 Though denied, Bush found even greater power in signing statements. Like the regular veto, line-item vetoes are subjected to potential congressional override. Signing statements, however, are far more powerful than both, as they cannot be challenged by any governmental body. Bush issued hundreds of signing statements throughout his presidency; without their existence, perhaps his veto history would have been far different.

There is no reasonable way to infer the true reasons for Bush’s meager twelve vetoes. It would seem a president so in favor of the expansion of executive authority would be disinclined to ignore any of his Constitutional powers. Yet President Bush still stands as one of the most reluctant presidents in American history to use the veto power. But how will this reluctance affect future presidencies? The current state of the veto is still unclear. President Obama has vetoed only one bill as of yet, and the bill was vetoed for more technical reasons, rather than political. Though in his campaign he called Bush’s use of signing statements “an abuse”, he has recently faced criticism over his own use of such statements.77 As President Obama’s presidency continues, it will be clearer what legacy President Bush left on the use and importance of the veto and whether it will retain its importance and what, if any, effects in will have on the balance of power in the U.S. government.

1.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes." U.S. Senate. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_index_subjects/Vetoes_vrd.htm>.

2.) "Reference Home Vetoes by President George W. Bush." U.S. Senate. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.senate.gov/reference/Legislation/Vetoes/BushGW.htm>.

3.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes."

4.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes."

5.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes."

6.) Spitzer, Robert J. The Presidential Veto: Touchstone of the American Presidency. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York, 1988. 106.

7.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes."

8.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk Vetoes."

9.) Spitzer, Robert J., 27-29

10.) Spitzer, Robert J., 33-34

11.) Mason, Edward Campbell, and Albert Bushnell Hart. The Veto Power: Its Origin, Development, and Function in the Government of the United States, 1789-1889. Boston, M.A.: Ginn & Co., 1891. 117-20

12.) Spitzer, Robert J., 71-72

13.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes."

14.) Heidorn, Nicolas. "Bush Has Threatened to Use the Veto 40 Times, but Never Has--What's Up?" History News Network, 26 July 2004. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://hnn.us/articles/6190.html>.

15.) "H.R. 810 [109th]: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005." GovTrack.us: Tracking the U.S. Congress. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h109-810>.

16.) Bash, Dana. "Bush Vetoes Embryonic Stem-cell Bill." CNN, 19 July 2006. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/07/19/stemcells.veto/index.html>.

17.) Babbington, Charles. "Bush's First Veto Kills Extra Funds for Embryonic Stem-cell Work." Seattle Times. 20 July 2006. Web. <http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003139229_stemcells20.html>.

18.) "Veto Override: H.R. 810 [109th]: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 Veto Override: H.R. 810 [109th]: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005." GovTrack.us. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2006-388>.

19.) Savage, Charlie. "Stem Cell Issue Opens Campaign Divide - The Boston Globe." Boston.com, 8 Aug. 2004. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/08/08/stem_cell_issue_opens_campaign_divide/>.

20.) "Bush to Allow Limited Stem Cell Funding." CNN, 10 Aug. 2001. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://archives.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/08/09/stem.cell.bush/>.

21.) Barrett, Ted. "Bush Vetoes War-funding Bill with Withdrawal Timetable." CNN, 2 May 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/05/01/congress.iraq/index.html>.

22.) "H.R. 1591 [110th]: U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007." GovTrack.us. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-1591>.

23.) Barret, Ted

24.) Stolbery, Sheryl G., and Jeff Zeleny. "Bush Vetoes Bill Tying Iraq Funds to Exit." The New York Times, 2 May 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/washington/02policy.html?_r=1>.

25.) "H.R. 1591 [110th]: U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007."

26.) Jackson, David. "Bush Expected to Sign War Funding Bill Friday." USA Today, 25 May 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-05-24-bush-iraq_N.htm>.

27.) "House Approves Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act; Bush Threatens Veto." Medical News Today, 12 June 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/73631.php>.

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31.) Stout, David. "Bush Vetoes Children’s Health Bill." The New York Times, 3 Oct. 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/03/washington/03cnd-veto.html>.

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33.) "Reference Home Virtual Reference Desk: Vetoes."

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35.) "Water Resources Development Act of 2007 Passes in U.S. House and Senate." International Erosion Control Association, 21 May 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://iecagrc.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/water-resources-development-act-of-2007-passes-in-us-house-and-senate/>.

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39.) Knowlton, Brian. "Bush Vetoes Domestic Spending Bill on Health, Education and Jobs." The New York Times, 13 Nov. 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/world/americas/13iht-cong.4.8320790.html?_r=1>.

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41.) Knowlton, Brian

42.) "H.R. 3043 [110th]: Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies..."

43.) "H.R. 3963 [110th]: Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007." GovTrack.us. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-3963>.

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46.) "H.R. 1585 [110th]: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008." GovTrack.us. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-1585>.

47.) Meyers, Steven L., and David Stout. "Bush to Veto Pentagon Funds Over Iraq Provision." The New York Times, 28 Dec. 2007. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/28/washington/28cnd-bush.html>.

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50.) Meyers, Steven L. "Veto of Bill on C.I.A. Tactics Affirms Bush’s Legacy." The New York Times, 9 Mar. 2008. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/washington/09policy.html>.

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