Between October 8, 2010 and February 24, 2015, President Obama vetoed nothing at all. In fact, in his first term in office, Obama vetoed only two bills, and none really of great import. Then after the GOP took over Congress, we saw a flurry of vetoes, many of which may cross President-elect Trump’s desk in the next Congressional term.
In the last 16 years, there have only been 24 presidential vetoes. That’s less than President Bill Clinton vetoed in his 8 year term (he had 36), and less than President George H.W. Bush in only four year (29). Reagan vetoed 39 bills. In fact, you have to go back to President John F. Kennedy, who didn’t finish his term, to find another president with less vetoes than Obama and Bush 43.
As presidents rely more on executive orders, executive authority, and the regulatory power of the administrative state, less vetoes is actually a bad sign for democracy. It means that Congress only acts when they believe they have the votes to override a veto, effectively neutering the legislative branch. In Obama’s term, only one veto has been overridden: the law allowing citizens to sue sponsors of terrorism.
Here’s a breakdown of Obama’s vetoed bills that could find new life with Trump at the helm:
Obama first vetoed Keystone XL on February 24, 2015. He has since then used every regulatory, judicial and executive opportunity to kill the project. Congress can reverse this and Trump will almost certainly sign it when it hits his desk.
NLRB – “Quickie Election” Union Rule
Congress tried to counter the National Labor Relations Board’s rules regarding “Representation – Case Procedures” which went into effect in April, 2015. This allows unions to hold “ambush elections” with very short timelines for employers to respond. Obama vetoed it on March 31, 2015.
Ultimately, the effect of the rule change is to substantially speed up the election process. With the changes, elections could potentially be held within 2 weeks (as little as 13 days) from the date the union files a petition.
2016 NDAA removing wartime spending caps
Obviously, the Defense Department is funded. But Obama’s reason for sending the National Defense Authorization Act back to Congress in October 2015 was because they wanted to remove spending caps on items considered to be “wartime operations.”
While this is indeed the “wrong” bill to veto given that it sets policy rather than cuts checks, it is the only one available to the president since Democrats have filibustered all appropriations bills and not allowed them to move through the Senate, much less to Obama’s desk.
In other words: Democrats were obstinate and stood athwart good faith efforts to rein in spending while recognizing the reality of fighting wars in Afghanistan and (increasingly, again) Iraq. The previous sequestration cuts Obama suckered the GOP Congress into agreeing to have hurt military readiness and have in fact cost more in the long run.
Sorry for the morale-killing veto, troops, and the fact that this is not new to you. The military hostage-taking has been going on since the Budget Control Act negotiations, when the White House proposed sequestration and received Republican approval for the draconian cuts—which disproportionately targeted the military’s budget—as an automatic trigger should negotiations fail.
Trump has already signaled his enthusiastic support of warfighters in the military, and also his intention to cut costs on programs like the bloated F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Anything dealing with climate change (3 times)
Anytime Congress tries to dial back Captain Planet’s Earth-saving authority given to the Church of Climate Change, Obama vetoes it. Again and again. SJ Res 22, 23, and 24 were all trounced between December 18, 2015 and January 19, 2016.
Obama wrote about SJ Res 24:
Because the resolution would overturn the Clean Power Plan, which is critical to protecting against climate change and ensuring the health and well-being of our Nation, I cannot support it.
Even in his last days, Obama is touting the number of signups to his failed Obamacare plan. Media lickspittle ABC News had the temerity to (just today!) tie the number of enrollments to states Trump won in November.
Some 6.4 million people signed up by the mid-December deadline — 400,000 more enrollees than the same period last year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
In a twist, the states with the most people selecting coverage all went for Trump in the presidential election: Florida, with just under 1.3 million selections; Texas, with about 776,000; North Carolina, with 369,077; Georgia, with 352,000; and Pennsylvania, with 290,950.
Those tallies do not include states that created their own digital health insurance exchanges, like New York and California, instead of using the federal government’s HealthCare.gov website.
Of all the things Trump has said, “Obamacare is a disaster” is one with which I would never argue. People sign up for it because they have no other choice. But with premium increases for healthy families who can afford insurance at 20 percent or more a year, the plan is going to fail. Insurers will go bankrupt or pull out of markets. Exchange plans will undergo risk pool failure.
Yet Obama vetoed HR 3762, to repeal Obamacare, on January 8, 2016. He could have repealed it and gotten a good head start toward something useful. But now Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress will have to dismantle the bloated and diseased ACA.
The incoming Congress has the political power to reverse much of what Obama considered sacrosanct, by placing before Trump bills that were previously vetoed. But it’s likely the slide toward executive rule by fiat will continue with Trump’s authoritative style. I’d like to see more vetoes, not less, because that’s healthier for democracy.