Congress' ability to legislate effectively has meant far fewer bill-signing ceremonies for President Obama, but it's also led to very few presidential vetoes -- Obama can't reject bills if lawmakers don't send bills to his desk for consideration.
In fact, as of today, Obama has used his veto pen just five times in his entire presidency (and the first two hardly count since they were technical in nature). When was the last time a president vetoed so few measures? Warren Harding served just two years in the White House in the early 1920s -- and he vetoed six bills.
When was the last time a two-term president vetoed so few bills? We have to go all the way back to James Monroe, who left office in 1825 -- nearly two centuries ago -- having only used his veto pen once.
With this in mind, when Obama dusts off the veto box in his desk, it's worth taking a closer look.
President Barack Obama has vetoed a sweeping $612 billion defense policy bill in a rebuke to congressional Republicans. Obama says the bill does a number of good things, but falls woefully short in other areas. He says it “resorts to gimmicks.”
Congressional Republicans, nearly all of whom have voted against previous versions of the military spending package -- called the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA -- quickly reached for the fainting couch, expressing faux-outrage that the rascally, war-time president would have the audacity to reject their bill for the troops.
The problem, of course, is that reality tells us that Obama is entirely correct.
There are two principal issues here. The first deals with the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay -- Obama agrees with U.S. military leaders and diplomats that the prison needs to close, but this year's NDAA tries to tie the president's hands and prevent prisoner transfers from the facility. Obama told Congress that such a move would spark a presidential veto; Republicans ignored the threat; and yesterday was the result.
The second, however, is arguably the more high-profile fight. Republican lawmakers who insisted on unbreakable spending caps played budget games to increase Pentagon spending in the NDAA. The White House told Congress that if the caps are interfering with sound policymaking, they should be adjusted across the board -- not just for the areas Republicans consider important.
GOP policymakers refused, insisting that they can ignore their own budget constraints for Republican priorities, but not Democratic priorities.
Obama, not surprisingly, deemed that unacceptable, and it led to yesterday's veto.
Will Congress be able to override the veto? Given what we know, that seems unlikely, but Republicans will invest considerable energy in a wildly deceptive argument: that anyone who opposes the defense spending must hate the military and American troops. Some nervous Dems may waver.
That said, if the offensive gambit fails, GOP lawmakers will have no choice but to negotiate and work towards some kind of bipartisan compromise.