What's the Point of a Veto?

Fri, 10 Dec 2010 03:24:49 +0000

Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Stein regards me as skittish about the recent tax deal.  Can a broken record really be skittish?

I haven't been skittish about the Bush era tax cuts -- I have been quite clear about wanting them to expire.

I haven't been skittish about the payroll tax holiday -- I have suggested it as part of a green tax swap, offset by other revenues and not as a short-term stimulus measure.

I haven't been skittish about what is conspicuously absent from this deal -- a means of paying for it over the long term and productive investments in public infrastructure that should form the backbone of it. 

The person who has been skittish, sad to say, is President Obama.  Consider a counterfactual -- imagine that the President had no veto power and was required by the Constitution to sign all pieces of legislation that passed both Houses.  How would this tax deal have been any different?  How much less could the Democrats have gotten out of it? 

Now compare that to a counterfactual in which the President had simply said:

In 2006 and 2008, the Democrats gained the Congress and the Presidency by campaigning against economic policies that favored the rich at the expense of others.  In 2010, the Republicans gained the House of Representatives by campaigning against deficit spending.  I am going to respect the wishes of the electorate in all three elections.  I will not sign any legislation that extends the tax cuts on incomes over $250,000 (or $1,000,000).  Nor will I sign any legislation that widens deficits in the near term that does not close them by an equal or greater amount within ten years.  If the Republicans and Democrats want such legislation to become law, they are welcome to take the path offered by the Constitution to pass it over my veto.

The skeptic might say that such a threat is not credible.  At the moment, it may not be.  Only the President can change that.  The first time he makes a threat and then carries it out is when he gains credibility.  Now would have been a great time to start.