During the four years that George W. Bush has been in office, two Congresses have come and gone, and one was in session for about two weeks before the inauguration. Of the thousands of bills introduced in these three Congresses, 377 became law from the 107th Congress, 498 became law from the 108th Congress, and 1 became law from the newly assembled 109th Congress.
The Presidential Veto
According to the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 7, Par. 2):
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 approve 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 it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. 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.
The rejection of a bill by the president is called the presidential veto. There are two types of vetoes. According to the Senate Glossary, a regular veto is
The procedure established under the Constitution by which the President refuses to approve a bill or joint resolution and thus prevents its enactment into law. A regular veto occurs when the President returns the legislation to the house in which it originated. The President usually returns a vetoed bill with a message indicating his reasons for rejecting the measure. The veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House.
Again, according to the Senate Glossary, a pocket veto is possible because
The Constitution grants the President 10 days to review a measure passed by the Congress. If the President has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, the bill does not become law.
A pocket veto cannot be overridden because Congress cannot override a veto when it is not in session. The mere threat of a veto can cause Congress to change legislation. This gives the president an enormous amount of power. But it also means that he is complicit with Congress for every piece of legislation that becomes law.
The following table shows the total number of vetoes made by each president. For a complete table that shows regular vetoes, pocket vetoes, and vetoes overridden, see this table from the House of Representatives.
President Total Vetoes George Washington 2 John Adams 0 Thomas Jefferson 0 James Madison 7 James Monroe 1 John Quincy Adams 0 Andrew Jackson 12 Martin Van Buren 1 William Henry Harrison 0 John Tyler 10 James K. Polk 3 Zachary Taylor 0 Millard Fillmore 0 Franklin Pierce 9 James Buchanan 7 Abraham Lincoln 7 Andrew Johnson 29 Ulysses S. Grant 93 Rutherford B. Hayes 13 James A. Garfield 0 Chester A. Arthur 12 Grover Cleveland I 414 Benjamin Harrison 44 Grover Cleveland II 170 William McKinley 42 Theodore Roosevelt 82 William Howard Taft 39 Woodrow Wilson 44 Warren G. Harding 6 Calvin Coolidge 50 Herbert C. Hoover 37 Franklin D. Roosevelt 635 Harry S. Truman 250 Dwight D. Eisenhower 181 John F. Kennedy 21 Lyndon B. Johnson 30 Richard M. Nixon 43 Gerald R. Ford 66 James E. Carter 31 Ronald Reagan 78 George H. W. Bush 46 William J. Clinton 17 George W. Bush 0
The total number of presidential vetoes is 2,550. Regular vetoes number 1,484. Pocket vetoes number 1,066. Only 106 vetoes have been overridden.
Those Bush Vetoes
Only eight presidents never vetoed a single bill: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James A. Garfield, and George W. Bush.
Harrison, Taylor, and Garfield have an excuse — they died in office and therefore did not have much of a chance to veto anything. It is also understandable why Adams, Jefferson, Adams, and Fillmore did not veto any bills — there were not that many bills introduced in Congress compared to today. During the recently-adjourned 108th Congress, there were 5,431 bills introduced in the House and 3,035 bills introduced in the Senate, plus hundreds of resolutions.
But what about Bush? Like the Iraq—al Quaeda connection and those weapons of mass destruction, those Bush vetoes are nowhere to be found. So for those who still think that Bush has a fiscally conservative bone in his body, read the following statement slowly and carefully: During his first term in office, George W. Bush did not veto a single bill sent to him by Congress. Not one. This means that Bush shares responsibility with the spendthrift Congresses that have for the past four years squandered not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money. To argue that Bush did not veto any bills because he was a Republican with a Republican Congress is ludicrous. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter were Democratic presidents with Democratic Congresses and it didn’t stop them from vetoing bills.
But in addition to not vetoing any legislation, Bush has added insult to injury by making his own legislation in the form of executive orders.
Presidential executive orders are said to be “official documents, numbered consecutively, through which the President of the United States manages the operations of the Federal Government.” Although executive orders have been around since the first presidency, it has only been since 1907 that each executive order has been assigned its own number by the State Department. Executive orders began to published in the Federal Register in 1936. President Bush has issued 173 executive orders since he became president (13198—13370). His first two, both signed on January 29, 2001, established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The complete text of all executive orders from the presidencies of Clinton and Bush, and a description of all executive orders from 1937 (FDR) to 1992 (Bush Sr.), can be seen at National Archives and Records Administration’s Executive Orders Disposition Tables.
Since executive orders do not need the approval of Congress, they allow the president to legislate. This was recognized by Congress when the House Rules Committee’s Subcommittee on Legislative & Budget Process held hearings on October 27, 1999, to “consider the subject of executive orders and the manner in which they impact on the legislative process.” In his opening remarks, the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Porter J. Goss (now head of the CIA [only one other former member of Congress has directed the CIA — George H. W. Bush]), stated:
Since the first executive order was issued in 1789 by President George Washington, there have been occasions where orders issued by the President have engendered public debate and controversy, sometimes leading to congressional or judicial reaction. We have seen this trend increase in recent decades as the scope and reach of the Federal Government have broadened, increasing the probability that policies implemented across the entire executive branch end up impacting the lives of the citizenry. Some have termed the active use of executive order “executive lawmaking.”
It also appears to me that we have encountered significant creativity and ingenuity on the part of Presidents to use executive orders to advance their agendas when the legislative process has proven unwilling or unable to yield the desired results.
During the Clinton regime, it was decried that a senior advisor to the president described these orders as “Stroke of the pen, law of the land, kind of cool.” But Bush made almost as many executive orders during his first four years as Clinton did (173 to 200).
Down With the Presidency
“The presidency must be destroyed,” said Lew Rockwell in a speech he delivered in Washington D.C. in 1996 called “Down With the Presidency.” This speech subsequently appeared in several publications, and most recently, in his book Speaking of Liberty. I will only reproduce the first paragraph here:
The presidency must be destroyed. It is the primary evil we face, and the cause of nearly all our woes. It squanders the national wealth and starts unjust wars against foreign peoples that have never done us any harm. It wrecks our families, tramples on our rights, invades our communities, and spies on our bank accounts. It skews the culture towards decadence and trash. It tells lie after lie. Teachers used to tell schools kids that anyone can be president. This is like saying anyone can go to Hell. It’s not an inspiration; it’s a threat.
This speech deserves to be read and reread not just every time a president is inaugurated, but every time a president issues an executive order, every time he sends American troops overseas, every time he declares another war in the United States (against drugs, poverty, fat, tobacco, etc.), every time he asks Congress for some new legislation, every time he pledges American dollars to some corrupt foreign government, every time he submits a new federal budget, and every time he proposes some new federal program. In short, this speech needs to be reread every time the president does or says anything — your money, property, or your life could be at stake.