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The veto power of the U.S. The U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to veto, or reject, legislation that has been passed by Congress.
What Does Veto Mean?
The word “veto” means “I forbid” in Latin. In the United States, Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution gives the president the authority to reject legislation that has been passed by both houses of Congress, though the word “veto” doesn’t actually appear in the Constitution.
Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but this is very difficult to achieve. Even the threat of a veto allows the president to influence debate on legislation in Congress before a bill is passed, and pressure legislators to make changes to a bill to avoid the veto.
Both the veto power and Congress’ ability to override it are examples of the system of checks and balances the Constitution created to ensure the separation of powers and keep any one branch of government from becoming too powerful.
How the Veto Works
Once both houses of Congress approve the same version of a bill or joint resolution, it goes to the president, who has 10 days (not including Sundays) to act on that legislation. If the president takes no action on a bill within 10 days, and Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law.
In the case of a regular veto, the president returns the piece of legislation to Congress within 10 days without signing it, usually with a memorandum explaining why he is rejecting the bill, known as a “veto message.”
Once a president has sent a bill back to Congress, he cannot change his mind and ask for it back. (Ulysses S. Grant tried to do this twice during his presidency, but Congress refused to comply.)
If Congress adjourns within 10 days after giving the president a bill, the president can exercise what’s known as a “pocket veto” by choosing not to sign the bill, or effectively putting it in his pocket. In this case, the bill will not become law, and Congress must begin the process all over again if it wants to revive the legislation.
The pocket veto is an absolute veto, which Congress cannot override. Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution provides for this pocket veto power, stating that “the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case, it shall not be law.” Over the years, debate over the meaning of “adjournment” resulted in several federal court cases involving the pocket veto.
In the early 1970s, after both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford attempted to use the pocket veto during brief adjournments during a congressional session, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. ruled that the president could not use the pocket veto during short congressional recesses, as long as Congress appointed an officer to receive an ordinary veto message during such a recess.
How Can Congress Override A Presidential Veto?
Congress can override a regular presidential veto with a two-thirds vote of those present in both the House and the Senate. As of 2014, presidents had vetoed more than 2,500 bills, and Congress had overridden less than 5 percent of those vetoes.
The Constitution does not give the president the ability to reject parts of a bill and approve the remainder—or line-item veto power—which most state governors have. Since the 1870s, more than 100 amendments have been proposed to change this, but none have been passed. In 1995, Congress passed a law giving the president the line-item veto, but the Supreme Court later ruled it unconstitutional on the grounds that it gave the president more power than the Constitution allowed.
Andrew Jackson and the Veto
The Constitution doesn’t specify the grounds on which president can exercise veto power, but many people originally understood that the framers meant the president to veto a bill only if he believed a law was unconstitutional. For that reason, the majority of vetoes before 1832 were on constitutional grounds.
Then came Andrew Jackson. Only the fourth president to use the veto power, he openly declared he was vetoing bills based on political, rather than constitutional grounds. (Jackson’s rejection of a bill rechartering the Second Bank of the United States remains one of the most famous uses of the pocket veto in U.S. history.)
Since the Civil War, most presidents have not vetoed bills on constitutional grounds, but because they considered the legislation unjust or simply unwise.
Famous Vetoes Throughout History
In 1792, George Washington exercised the presidential veto power for the first time; he would use the veto only twice during his presidency, and was never overridden. In fact, the nation didn’t see a presidential veto overridden until 1845, when Congress overrode John Tyler’s veto of a bill prohibiting the president from authorizing the building of Coast Guard ships without approved appropriations from Congress.
Perhaps unsurprisingly—given the length of time he spent in office—President Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed the most bills of any president in history, with 635. (He was overridden only nine times.) But Grover Cleveland, in his two non-consecutive terms in the 1880s and ‘90s, nearly matched him, with 584 vetoes (seven of which were overridden).
More Recent Presidential Vetoes
In more recent decades, some notable vetoes (and overrides) have shaped the course of American government and society. In 1971, Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Care Development Act, dashing hopes that the United States would begin building a system of universal, federally financed day care.
In 1974, Ford vetoed the Freedom of Information Act due to national security concerns. But in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress overrode the veto, making thousands of previously classified records public.
Another notable override occurred in 1988, when Ronald Reagan vetoed a bill imposing sanctions on South Africa’s pro-apartheid government; Congress overrode the veto and passed the sanctions anyway.
In contrast to many of their predecessors in office, George W. Bush and Barack Obama exercised relatively few vetoes, with just 12 each. Congress overrode only one of Obama’s vetoes, the 2012 veto of a bill allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.
Veto Power, The Oxford Guide to the United States Government.
How a Bill Becomes a Law, USA.gov.
Congress At Work: The Presidential Veto and Congressional Veto Override Process, National Archives.
A Look at the Record: Veto, American Heritage.
Ten Vetoes That Shaped Recent Political History, Time.
Congress overrides a presidential veto, March 3, 1845. Politico.
The Wrong Side of History: America’s ‘Veto’ and ‘Abstention-Imperialism’
On Tuesday, March 17, 1970, Charles Woodruff Yost, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, entered the international body’s headquarters building on the far east side of Midtown Manhattan. He was about to make history. The UN was already 25 years old, but nonetheless, the organization’s top superpower had yet to exercise its profound Security Council veto power. Within a few hours, Yost was set to change all that.
In the interest of what greater good would this patrician, cultivated, career diplomat-scholar wield the veto: Freedom? Liberty? Human dignity? Or the rights of small nations? Hardly. No, this day America’s global ambassador brandished the voting “nuclear option” to protect from censure an illegal, racist, white-settler-minority regime – Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) – that even then waged war, and maintained a state of emergency, to disenfranchise its black majority (some 95% of the populace).
Until 1970, the Soviet Union had been the UN’s vetoer-in-chief, spiking no less than 80 resolutions. Besides the USSR, only Britain (thrice), and France (twice) – to defend their imperial actions and white-settler colonies or clients in Africa – had so used their granted (as permanent members of the Security Council) power-check. Everything changed, however, that March. Henceforth, the United States would cast the vast majority of vetoes: a total of 85 to the Soviet Union’s (and later Russian Federation’s) 48. No other member came close. That Washington cast its first negative vote to prop-up racist settler-colonialists, and that hardly any Americans had (or have) a clue about it, is disturbingly instructive. Furthermore, as it turned out, this wretched veto proved perfectly in character.
A Power Time Capsule
History stands still at the United Nations. Consider it an imperial time capsule and a nefarious one at that. After all, the real authority at the UN – the five member permanent Security Council – is itself a dated vestige of a bygone era: a flawed power structure freeze frame from a second war that failed “to end all wars.” Ostensibly an organization dedicated to self-determination, sovereign state equality, and the extinction of cross-border aggression, in truth the UN mirrored and formalized existing power inequities from the first.
Here was an imperial institution, whose charter – and vast majority of “general” (assembly) members – were dedicated to anti-imperialism. Yet, the Security Council represented paternalism incarnate: resting, as it did, on the assumption that the world required “big-boy” countries to mind the unwashed herd. The five nations ultimately selected to permanently (imagine the conceit!) man the global ship – and imbued with the veto ability to bring it to a screeching halt – may not have been entirely reflective of actual power-dispersal, or broadly consistent (even in 1945), but it did have a certain logic.
Britain was broke, having barely survived the war France literally broken the latter having lost the war before it “won” it. China was shattered, divided, on the cusp of civil war, and – at best – had fought its Japanese opponent to a stalemate. The United States and the Soviet Union were, of course, the two true power-brokers – but even there, the potency gap was wider than either admitted. Only America had emerged (domestically) unscathed and truly better off in World War II’s aftermath.
Still, Britain had technically held out against Hitler and assisted the American juggernaut, and besides, it – like the earlier vanquished France – still held vast swathes of the globe in its imperial embrace. That seemed to warrant a place at the adults-table. China was a mess, itself a recent victim of European empire-vultures – but its immense population and strategic position earned it a spot on the A-team too. The Soviets, well, back in 1945 – before the myth of the Americans as the single-handed back-to-back world war champs had fully taken root – it was hard to deny that they, more than anyone, had carried the lion’s share in the Nazi defeat. But there was something else, a matter even less discussed in polite company: all five permanent Security Council members were empires. Three (China, America, and the Soviet Union) were expansionist, on some level settler-colonial, continental behemoths the other two, rickety leftovers of the high-imperial age maritime prototype.
It wasn’t long, of course, before the bipolar Cold War broke out – or, more accurately, restarted – and, China having gone “red” in 1949, two armed camps formed. Britain and France, empires or not, fell under the American wing to one degree or another – putting the lie to the fiction that either was a true superpower. China initially caucused with Soviets, at least until the final Sino-Soviet split of 1965 exposed another fiction: that of a worldwide communist monolith. Nonetheless, that veto-bit continued to matter.
The positions and principled squawking of Burkina Faso might be cute, charming even, but only the five “serious” players could instantly scuttle world opinion and make a mockery of the whole transnational enterprise. But how would, and has, the cryogenically frozen (on V-J Day) Security Council use the veto “nuclear-option?” (Pun, perhaps, intended, as all five would, by 1964, possess such weapons)
Uncle Sam’s Veto
It is striking how little one hears any meaningful discussion of America’s use of the Security Council veto: its historical patterns and prospects. Naturally, the public and press purportedly hold U.S. congressmen responsible for their records – though the supposedly “progressive” Democratic Party’s nomination of Joe Biden raises serious questions about that statement’s veracity – so, logic would hold that countries be held to account for their influential international votes. Only that’s rarely the case, particularly in the United States. Maybe, in part, the lack of interest reflects Americans’ exceptionalist mistrust of all transnational institutions, and general unconcern with foreign affairs.
Furthermore, few citizens or leaders take the UN seriously these days – though I’d submit this sentiment confuses the sequence. Washington (and Moscow, in key ways) had – through veto intransigence and the threat of such – castrated the UN’s power and deprived it of most real seriousness or legitimacy, long before America’s populace and policymakers decided the international body wasn’t to be taken seriously.
In the American case, though, perhaps it is of some (inadvertent) comfort to the citizenry not to know just how and why Uncle Sam wielded the veto – and the even more cowardly abstention – in their name. For the truth has often been obscene. The record is as clear as it is unsettling: in the vast majority of cases, the U.S. has vetoed, or abstained from, Security Council resolutions in the interest – or at least with the effect – of stifling the freedom and sovereignty of brown folks, propping up racist or imperial regimes, and empowering brutal, dare I say, (albeit “anti-communist”) “terrorists.”
Thus, while the U.S. (for the most part) has eschewed anachronistic, overt province-snatching after 1945 – though an empire it remains all the same, and has always been – it has most certainly engaged in a flagrant brand of “veto-” and “abstention-imperialism” right in the heart of New York City. More often than not, America’s veto-imperialism has officially blocked the liberty-aspirations of people of color populating the nascent nations of the Global South. It’s less conspicuous, but even more spineless, abstention-imperialism was almost equally nefarious – tacitly lending “wink-nod” legitimacy to the racist locals and remnant European colonizers doing much of the blocking.
The whole callous charade amounts to a record of shame – in four distinct temporal and geographic phase-spaces – that helps account for the abysmal American reputation abroad, and offers a starkly different answer to the criminally naive question of former President George W. Bush: “Why do they hate us?”
Phase I: Colonial-Imperial Ally Solidarity (1963-81)
The United States wasn’t (and to be fair, isn’t) always Mr. Prime-Evil in the Security Council. For a time, in fact, it voted – though its actions weren’t necessarily consonant – with an eye to the decidedly anti-imperial values President Roosevelt (an early UN proponent) had espoused in the 1941 Atlantic Charter: such as that “all people had a right to self-determination.” In fact, in 1956, the Soviets and Americans voted together to condemn the British-French-Israeli conspiracy and blatant invasion of Egypt during the “Suez Crisis.”
Washington again voted with Moscow, and against (the abstentions of) its imperial European NATO allies four times in 1960 alone: condemning apartheid South Africa’s Sharepville Massacre of black protestors, and on a few calls for Belgian troops to leave their now sovereign former colony of the Congo. Sure, (not-so) behind the scenes, the U.S. had financed South Africa through (precious mineral) trade and investment and also stymied Congolese democracy – the CIA even plotting the assassination of the popular Congolese nationalist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba (the Belgians and their local allies would beat them to the punch). Nevertheless, in international councils, at least, Washington could claim anti-colonial consistency.
Something changed right around the time the United States took up the French imperial mantle, with real force, in Vietnam. In 1963 – just months before the CIA conspired in the coup-assassination of the U.S.-installed president of South Vietnam – Washington started to consistently join the old European colonial powers to regularly veto and repeatedly abstain from resolutions that condemned remnant (mostly Portuguese) colonialism, or white-settler apartheid neo-imperialism and regional aggression in Southern Africa.
From 1963-81, the U.S. vetoed three (twice with Britain) – and abstained from 10 (nine along with the British, seven with the French) – resolutions related to the condemnation of “The Last Empire” in Africa. The resultant output: at least 100,000 Africans killed by the Portuguese dictatorship. On seven further occasions (always joined by Britain, five times by France) Washington vetoed – and 18 times abstained (with Britain all but once, and France for 13 votes) – resolutions that decried South African or Rhodesian internal apartheid or external invasions of neighboring states. Some of these American (and NATO-allied) votes were particularly heinous: including veto-refusals to condemn South Africa’s illegal military occupation of the continent’s “last colony” (Namibia), impose sanctions on the apartheid regime, and abstentions from resolutions that decried both Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, and South Africa’s outright invasion of newly independent Angola.
The losers, in America’s post-1963 pro-imperialist and racist regime volte face, were, naturally, the black bodies toiling for the freedom and autonomy promised in the very United Nations Charter that the U.S. had decisively championed and brought to fruition decades earlier.
Phase II: Dancing With (“Non-Commie”) Monsters (1981-91)
Both regional manifestations of phase II, and the entirety of phase III, represent the – still ongoing – “go-it-alone” era of American veto/abstention-imperialism. With some notable exceptions, as the 1980s unfolded, America’s European, former-colonial allies got squeamish at the Security Council. They were increasingly willing – and in fact preferred – to allow the United States to take up the empire mantle at the UN. This ever more (mostly) applied in Southern Africa, and was almost always true in Washington’s own backyard: Latin America. These, then, were but differing regional flavors of the same tortured temporal phase.
In 1981, two events occurred – and it’s unlikely that they were coincidental – which changed (if ever so slightly) the British and French calculus at the UN: yet another South African invasion of neighboring Angola, and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Paradoxically, South Africa – and occupied Namibia – were, in a significant sense, British Frankenstein’s Monster creations (as was Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, which had been forced to accede majority rule in 1980), and the war-torn countries the apartheid state repeatedly attacked (Mozambique and Angola) were detritus of NATO-backed Portuguese imperialism.
Regardless, the old European powers gladly handed over “protection” “responsibility” to the U.S. By early 1981, South Africa’s latest brazen invasion of Angola was one too many – especially after the controversial “raid” or “massacre” at the Cassinga “rebel” or “refugee” camp there – for Britain and France. Thence it fell to an amenable Reagan administration to prop-up the apartheid state.
The new president was a perfect candidate for racist regime apologia. Reagan, the former actor, possessed the perfect combination of white-settler sympathy and historical ignorance to “play” the role. Within two months of his inauguration, Reagan publicly defended South Africa, positing:
Can we abandon a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have and so forth?
Only Reagan’s logic was based on an incredibly faulty understanding of the recent past. In fact, leaving aside the utterly absurd claim that the relatively new country had fought on America’s side in “every” war, South Africa’s ruling National Party (in power 1948-94) had vehemently opposed entry into World War. Worse still, leading members – including the recent president of South Africa – had then been interred by their government as Nazi sympathizers.
On another level, however, Reagan was right – or at least inadvertently honest – about the decisive role of American corporate interests, mainly mining, in ensuring Washington’s longtime support for the abhorrent apartheid regime. He might as well have admitted the real rub: Pretoria’s white apartheid-committed leaders were monsters. Only they weren’t communists – so they were our monsters.
Throughout the Reagan years, the U.S. vetoed at least seven South Africa-related condemnatory resolutions (usually with British, but now only once with French, backing), and abstained from 10 similar votes. The abstentions usually involved the more salacious South African actions – such as massacres of anti-apartheid protesters – and, for the first time, London abandoned Washington nearly half of the time. Paris was completely out of the abstention game on all ten votes. In the interim, tens of thousands of Africans were killed within South Africa whilst fighting apartheid, and by a conservative estimate, 8-12,000 others lost their lives defending their countries from Pretoria’s repeated invasions of Angola and incursions into Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and others.
During the new administration’s inaugural month, Reagan’s first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, provided perhaps the most honest (if incorrigible) justification for, and kick-off of, the new unilateral American epoch at the Security Council on all matters Southern Africa related: “International terrorism will take the place of human rights in our concern because it is the ultimate abuse of human rights.” Haig’s distinctly Orwellian “newspeak,” and circular logic, masked one inconvenient detail: according to Washington, the “terrorists” were all black and the only “human rights” that most whites defended were those circumscribed by apartheid.
As Chester Crocker, the president’s own assistant secretary of state for African affairs, reportedly told a reporter, “all Reagan knows about southern Africa is he’s on the side of the whites.” The secretary may as well have been describing America’s broader role at the UN.
Phase IIA: “Get Off” My (Latin American) “Lawn” (1973, ’82-90)
Throughout its history, the United Nations has no doubt been afflicted with bias, and had great penchants for certain cause célèbre. Generally, the core concerns of the General Assembly have honed in on South African apartheid (1948-94), and Israel’s perpetual occupation of Palestine (1967-present). Sometimes this UN laser focus has come at the expense of other global victims – Tibet and East Timor come to mind – but in other cases, it seems the organization has strategically picked its battles and recognized its limitations.
Thus, given America’s decisive role in founding – and later funding – the UN, and realizing Washington’s capacity and intense dedication to a singular role in “its” hemisphere, relatively few Security Council resolutions related to Latin America. This in spite of Uncle Sam’s vicious meddling – fostering coups, paying right-wing death squads, and even outright invading neighbors – in the southern half of the New World throughout the post-UN era (and long before).
Of course, whenever UN members had the temerity to even raise concern over any of these U.S. aggressions, Washington vetoed the motions so fast the General Assembly members’ heads must have spun. What’s more, in Latin American affairs, America jettisoned the passive aggression of its elsewhere ubiquitous abstention-imperialism. In fact, on only a couple of occasions did the U.S. bother with tactic once halting calls for a ceasefire during its invasion of the Dominican Republic (1965) another over a vague, watered-down 1973 resolution, that only “urged,” and “requested,” states to “refrain” from “coercive measures against Latin American countries.” Even then, the latter measure dared not include a single mention of the United States by name.
That same day, March 21, 1973, Washington had spiked a resolution on the real issue at hand: possession of the Panama Canal. Although this proposal, too, only “urged” the two sides to “negotiate” America’s eventual handover of the canal – only under U.S. control because it had instigated a 1903 “revolution” to pry Panama away from Columbia – Washington wasn’t having any of it. After 1973, the U.S. vetoed eight other modest condemnations of its pugnacious policies in the region: four times over its decade long proxy war in Nicaragua, three times to defend a couple of its outright invasions – Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989) – and once to back Britain’s Falklands War (1982) with Argentina.
Throughout, Washington was usually left alone and unafraid alone on its Latin American vetoes. Only twice did it have allied backing: from London and Paris during the Panama War, and, of course, from the Brits, during their own conflict with Argentina. Indeed, so egregious and unnecessary was the Grenada invasion, that even Britain – which the U.S. had backed in their operation the year before – abandoned America at the UN. Consider them Falklands-fair-weather friends. All told, U.S.-induced coups, destabilization, and its backed, trained, and/or armed reactionary proxies, contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Furthermore, the legacy of Washington’s vetoes, and the actions they covered, veritably created the conditions from which the recent mass of northbound Central American refugees fled.
Phase III: Big-Brother (To Israel) In The Schoolyard (1968-?)
So linked have America and Israel become in the collective domestic and international mind, that it is easy forget that, while Washington was the first to recognize the new state, it was initially other powers – notably France – that provided the most military and diplomatic support to Tel Aviv. That changed rather quickly after Israel’s decisive victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and its decision to occupy – indefinitely as it turned out – two Palestinian districts (the Gaza Strip and West Bank) which the UN had “set aside” for local Arabs back in 1947.
With but a few exceptions (and never with an actual veto) Britain and France dared not so overtly back Israel’s regional aggression and illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories, as the U.S. was – and remains – willing to do. By the numbers, America’s shielding of Israel from censure, oversight, and sanctions, has been staggering. Since 1973, Washington has vetoed no less than 38 resolutions critical of Israel’s stranglehold on the West Bank and Gaza, invasion and lengthy (until 2000) occupation of Southern Lebanon, assassination campaign, and decades-long, legally-prohibited settlement of conquered Palestinian land. Furthermore, the U.S. abstained from at least 20 votes when Tel Aviv perpetrated its more shameless aggressions: like bombing, or executing Palestinian rebels in, Tunisia, gunning-down Palestinian protesters, and backing Lebanese militiamen who murdered UN peacekeepers.
In every veto (and most all abstentions), over an astonishing 50 year span, the United States stood alone in its reflexive unwavering support for Israeli occupation and regional aggression. Even when, as was often the case, the resolutions condemned “terror” and atrocities on both sides of the intractable conflict, Washington simply couldn’t countenance criticism of its little brother – right or wrong! The parallels with South Africa are as extraordinary as they are troubling.
The tragic irony is that America – which crafted the “self-determination” clause in the Atlantic Charter precursor to the UN – has perennially backed, and helped catalyze the construction of, another apartheid state – this time in the Mid-East – at the Security Council. U.S. support, tacit encouragement, and defense of two-tiered, racialized occupation regimes, was nothing short of the American raison de etre in the UN Security Council since at least the mid-1960s. Unfortunately, that putrid precedent-setting ultimately came back to bite Washington’s backside over the last decade.
Phase IV: The Precedent-Script Flips (2011-?)
When it came to veto-wielding, America’s go-it-alone phases continued apace after the fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of the Soviet Union, and well into the post-Cold War era. Washington was the dominant “no” power from 1989 until 2011, during which time it cast 17 of the 25 total vetoes (14 on behalf of Israel, 16 without allied solidarity), compared to six by Russia (three alone) and four from China (two alone). Then came the Arab Spring, which morphed by mid-2011 into a Syrian “Winter” of outright civil war.
With that outbreak, the Security Council script instantly flipped and since then it has been Russia, in defense of its client – the Syrian Arab Republic of Bashar al-Assad – that’s dominated the veto-game. After October 4, 2011, Moscow vetoed 19 of the 21 total blocked resolutions – 14 to shield Assad, and 10 times standing alone in the vote. Equally worrisome, China jumped in nine times, and always along with Russia.
The U.S. vetoed just two (both related to Israel). While Moscow’s role in propping up the Syrian regime – though the increasingly Islamist alternatives to Assad are no less troubling – and enabling its despicable war crimes, is atrocious, the Russians learned the technique from us. Here’s the awkward rub: just as the United States used its veto – and military aid – to irreversibly deadlock any settlement of Israel’s occupation of Palestine for at least 47 years, of late Russia has followed America’s example to protect its regional lackey. In the absence of any sense of consistency or historical context, the U.S. government, public and (especially) “liberal” media figures are shocked…just shocked.
Moscow’s non-Syrian vetoes mainly stifled UN criticism of its involvement in the ongoing Ukraine conflict. Though certain to set off hysteria with the Russia-obsessed DNC-plants over at CNN and MSNBC, any sensible analysis demonstrates that there is also a rather discomfiting connection – and therefore hypocritical uni-directional judgment – between recent Russian meddling in Ukraine and earlier American activities in Latin America. Both Washington and Moscow engaged in respective brands of “get-off-my-lawn” proxy-wars – in the U.S. case, Nicaraguan Contras death squad support – around their self-proclaimed spheres of influence. From this decidedly valid viewpoint, Russia’s Ukraine endeavors (2011-present) track pretty closely with America’s more prolonged Latin American campaigns (1979-90…or longer).
After all, while hardly excusing Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine, their activities are far closer to home than parallel (and far deadlier) American actions were in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. One wonders how Washington would react to Russian meddling in Mexico? My guess is with a call to war.
As a parent of two sons under the age of 12, simple common sense instructs that one must, necessarily, be wary of the example (and precedent) one sets. Perhaps the same can be said for nation-states, which, it seems, is a lesson the United States has lately learned at the UN Security Council.
Seated On The Wrong Side Of History
This deplorable catalogue of American veto and abstention imperialist intransigence amounts to much more than some horrifying international civics lesson. The far weightier truth is that more often than not, in the Security Council chambers, Uncle Sam was firmly seated on the wrong side of history. The mainly venal manner in which Washington has wielded that veto has almost single-handedly – though with key early and late-stage assists from Moscow – made a mockery of the UN Charter and all its ostensibly stands for.
In the process, America’s protected clients killed hundreds of thousands of post-colonial brown and black freedom-seekers. However, even from a more insular, strategic perspective, Washington’s voting behavior has ultimately backfired – at the cost of its own troops’ lives and any lingering sense homeland security. It all amounts to a brand of veto-blowback. Third World nationalists sensed early that the U.S. didn’t have their best interests at heart, and that it dominated the United Nations. To this day, countless Africans, Latin Americans, and Arabs have never forgiven either entity. This hasn’t bode well for the U.S. in its interminable (on some level resultant) two-decade war on terror.
As a Zimbabwean black nationalist newspaper put it way back in 1960: “Africans have learnt now the folly of entrusting the freedom of a country to an organization [the UN] that is controlled by one big imperialistic country [the U.S.].” As a recent historian astutely concluded, that “lesson seriously limited the room for political moderation in nationalist circles.” From this not entirely inaccurate view, the UN was either feckless (due to neo-imperial veto power), or else a Washington – or New York – front.
Whichever “poison” global southerners “picked” (and continue to select) they understandably decided to look elsewhere for support in their freedom and independence struggles: to communism, alternative (Soviet Union or Chinese) state backers, and, (some) lately to violent strains of Islamism. Forced into these ideologies, tactics, or foreigners’ arms, the nationalists thus provided Washington a seemingly even realer reason to intervene in opposition: and around and around we go.
Finally, while the admission doesn’t play in polite company, there was (and is) always a distinct racial component to American veto/abstention-imperialism. The business end of a U.S. veto almost always served white states and white (even minority) rule. To wit, fully two-thirds of Washington’s 85 odd nay votes defended the existence or actions of an apartheid-inflected regime (Rhodesia, South Africa, or Israel). About half of the rest covered its own nefarious policies against brown folks in Latin America.
And so I am reminded of a passing comment from Reagan’s Africa point-man in the state department, who claimed that in South Africa, “it is not our task to choose between black and white…” On this point, Chester Crocker was terribly mistaken, as even a cursory glance at Washington’s veto record illustrates.
America, as a nation, almost always took sides…it chose the whites…
OTHER WORDS FROM veto
They were looking for “electorally generated veto points” — that is to say, elected bodies that could block change.
It took about a year, but they changed that golden-share, that veto power over major transactions into what they called the Public Interest Foundation.
A state law passed just before Ikrata’s arrival gave the city of San Diego an effective veto at SANDAG.
If reformers hope to succeed in curbing overpolicing, they will first have to overcome the challenge of underpolicing, which has often allowed officers to exercise an effective veto on reform.
San Diego needs support from just two other cities to exercise a veto .
Immediately, there was a national groundswell of voices calling for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill.
By giving an artistic veto to a madman, we submit to the mindset of a slave.
In his veto message, Christie also chided Democratic lawmakers for “using their lawmaking authority to play politics.”
With the second veto on Friday, however, all bets seemed to be off.
In fact, because the House never voted, he never got the chance to sign or veto anything.
The worthy knight not being now alive to veto the project, a figure of him has been placed opposite the College in Edmund Street.
It made me furious, too, to see my ambition nipped with the frost of a possible veto from Miss Smawl.
This protection was exercised mainly through the use of the veto power given to the tribunes.
And this repeal is demanded because a single State interposes her veto , and threatens resistance!
To make it possible for the tribunes to give such protection, the veto had been granted to them.
Presidential Vetoes in American History
Veto numbers by individual presidents as well as Congressional overrides of vetoes tell much about the relationship between Congress and the President.
The presidential power to veto legislation is an integral part of the system of “checks and balances.” The term “veto” comes from the Latin, meaning “I forbid,” and can be used two different ways by Presidents to stop legislation from being enacted. The history of the presidential veto is a reflection of the relationship between Congress and the Executive Branch as well as their understanding of constitutionality.
Types of Presidential Vetoes in American History
The Constitution gives the President the right to veto bills sent from the House and Senate once approved by a simple majority in both chambers. During Congressional sessions, the president may veto bills, give written reasons for the veto, and send the legislation back to Congress where members can still enact the bill with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
Bills arriving for presidential signature after their session has adjourned can be rejected using the pocket veto in which the President sets aside the legislation without signing it. Since Congress is no longer in session, the bill will fail. One of the most famous pocket vetoes was Andrew Jackson’s rejection of the rechartering of the National Bank in 1832. If the President holds the legislation while Congress is in session for ten days without signing it, the bill becomes law.
Presidential Vetoes before the American Civil War
During his brief term in office following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson used the veto 29 times. The total number of presidential vetoes of all of the preceding presidents was 59. Andrew Jackson had 12 total vetoes followed by John Tyler with 10. Much can be drawn from these numbers.
Andrew Johnson rapidly incurred the displeasure of a Congress led by Radical Republicans in 1865 over Reconstruction. Additionally, Johnson was a Southern Democrat and an “accidental” president. In vetoing key elements of the Republican Reconstruction legislative agenda, he became a pariah and ultimately was forced to undergo impeachment. Johnson was also a “strict constructionist” of the Constitution and based many of his vetoes on his views of constitutionality.
Unlike Jackson and Tyler, however, Johnson’s vetoes were overridden 12 times (once for Tyler, none for Jackson). Tyler and Jackson both followed the strict constructionist model and vetoed measures they deemed to be unconstitutional. In Tyler’s case, he faced a hostile Congress. In some ways a man without a party, Tyler had limited support from either the Democrats or the Whigs, who had repudiated him in 1841.
It should also be noted that, according to scholars,  these early Congresses took great care to write legislation that was constitutional. Hence, there were fewer presidential vetoes.
Post Civil War Presidential Vetoes
Presidential vetoes rise in number after the Civil War, declining again after the Eisenhower administration. Franklin Roosevelt vetoed 635 measures during his many years in office yet only 9 of those vetoes were overridden. Grover Cleveland vetoed 414 measures during his two non-consecutive terms, yet as historians point out, many of these vetoes related to private bills that addressed individuals or organizations rather than public bills affecting everyone.
Since the practice of private bills decreased after Eisenhower’s two terms, there was a significant drop in presidential vetoes. President Bill Clinton, for example, had 22 vetoes (2 overridden), only one more than John F. Kennedy’s 21 (none overridden). President Gerald Ford had the highest number of vetoes since the Eisenhower years with 66 of which 12 were overridden. This was in the aftermath of Watergate and the Vietnam War and Ford was facing an uncooperative Congress.
Reforming the Presidential Veto with a Line Item Veto
Much has been said in recent years regarding amending the Constitution to give the President a “line item veto.” Already in use by most state governors, this process would allow for the rejection of certain parts of a bill rather than vetoing a potential good bill with undesirable riders or amendments attached or so-called “earmarks” hidden in the bill.
Congress cannot override a presidential veto if the veto occurs after adjournment and the president had less than 10 days to consider the bill. This process is described in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
Some states, such as Idaho, have similar rules that prevent legislatures from acting on gubernatorial vetoes that occur post-adjournment. Γ] Other states have rules that allow state legislatures to override vetoes in special sessions or during the legislature's next regular session.
This chart shows 25 states that Ballotpedia has identified as having rules that may allow legislatures to override post-adjournment vetoes. The list is not exhaustive.
|Overriding post-adjournment vetoes|
|State||When post-adjournment vetoes can be overridden|
|Alaska||Special session or second regular session|
|Connecticut||Automatic veto session|
|Delaware||Next regular session Δ]|
|Florida||Special session or next regular session Ε]|
|Georgia||Special session Ζ]|
|Indiana||Next regular session Η]|
|Iowa||Special session ⎖]|
|Louisiana||Automatic veto session|
|Maryland||Special session or next regular session. ⎗]|
|Mississippi||Next regular session ⎘]|
|Missouri||Automatic veto session|
|Montana||Veto override poll conducted by the Secretary of State|
|Nevada||Special session or next regular session ⎙]|
|New Jersey||Automatic veto session after first regular session|
|New Mexico||Special session or next regular session ⎚]|
|North Carolina||Automatic veto session|
|Oregon||Special session or next regular session ⎛]|
|Pennsylvania||Second regular session ⎜]|
|South Carolina||Special session or next regular session ⎝]|
|Tennessee||Special session ⎞]|
|Vermont||Session veto session ⎟]|
|Virginia||Automatic veto session|
|Washington||Special session or next regular session|
Veto - HISTORY
Inspired by names such as the Cure and Bloc Party, Århus, Denmark's Veto formed in 2004 and quickly became a household name in their native land. An alternative/electronic/modern progressive rock band,…
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Artist Biography by Chris True
Inspired by names such as the Cure and Bloc Party, Århus, Denmark's Veto formed in 2004 and quickly became a household name in their native land. An alternative/electronic/modern progressive rock band, Veto (Troels Abrahamsen -- vocals and synth, David Krogh Andersen -- guitar, Mark Lee -- guitar and synth, Jens Skov Thomsen -- bass and vocals, and Mads Hasager -- drums) signed to Danish label Tabu, which released their debut EP, 2005's I Will Not Listen, and their first full-length, There's a Beat in All Machines, in 2006. The band's first wave of work was welcomed both critically and commercially, and in 2007 the band won Best New Act and Best Danish Music Video at that year's Danish Music Awards. In 2008, Veto unleashed their next collection of work, starting with the single "Built to Fail" in March of that year. Their sophomore album, Crushing Digits, was released a short time later -- in May to be exact -- to equally successful effect.
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.
In order to ensure the vitality of the separation of powers, the Framers gave the executive, as James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 47, a “partial agency” in the legislative process. Under Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, the president can propose measures to Congress, and under Article I, Section 7, Clause 2, the president can approve or veto bills that the Congress must present to him. If he does veto the bill, he must return it to Congress, which may then override his veto by a two-thirds vote. By these devices, the Framers set themselves squarely against any absolute veto by the president. But what happens if the president refuses to approve or to return the bill to Congress? What happens if Congress adjourns, preventing a return of the bill?
In order to solve these two problems, the Framers crafted the Pocket Veto Clause. If the president refuses to approve or return the bill within ten days (not including Sunday), the bill automatically becomes law. If, in the interim, Congress has adjourned, the bill dies and the legislation must be reintroduced and passed again when Congress reconvenes. Later termed by Andrew Jackson the “Pocket Veto,” the clause has been the subject of much controversy between the president and Congress.
There is an ambiguity as to what kinds of adjournment the clause covers: (1) sine die adjournment when a Congress comes to an end, and a newly elected Congress must convene, (2) intersession adjournment between two sessions of the same Congress, and (3) intrasession adjournments when Congress takes a break within a session. There is virtually unanimous agreement that the president may pocket veto a bill when Congress adjourns sine die. Although some members of Congress have disputed the validity of intersession and intrasession pocket vetoes, Congress as a whole has acquiesced in these kinds of presidential pocket veto.
As a model for the veto power, the Framers used the constitution of the state of New York of 1777 but omitted the section that would have prohibited intersession pocket vetoes (“that if any bill shall not be returned . . . within ten days after it shall have been presented, the same shall be a law, unless the legislature shall, by their adjournment, render a return of the said bill within ten days impracticable in which case the bill shall be returned on the first day of the meeting of the legislature after the expiration of the said ten days.”)
Other parts of the Constitution refer to adjournments of differing lengths, but the Framers did not particularize which adjournments would or would not affect a pocket veto. Textually, therefore, it seems that the clause permits the president to exercise a pocket veto any time the Congress as a whole adjourns.
On the other hand, advocates for the view that the clause applies only to sine die adjournments hold that the purpose of the Pocket Veto Clause was to permit the president and Congress to continue to engage in the legislative process if at all practicable. Just as the president is not permitted to veto a law simply by not signing it, so should he not be permitted to veto a law simply because Congress has recessed for a few days. The advocates for greater congressional authority assert that an intrasession adjournment (and perhaps even an intersession adjournment) does not “prevent a return” as the clause states it. It merely postpones the return until Congress reconvenes. Further, many holding this view have also asserted that so long as Congress appoints an agent to receive the return while it is adjourned, the president may not pocket veto the legislation at all.
President James Madison exercised the first pocket veto during an intersession, Andrew Jackson exercised the first pocket veto after a final adjournment (prompting an objection from Henry Clay), and Andrew Johnson exercised the first intrasession vetoes (rejecting five bills). In response to Johnson’s action, the Senate passed a bill regulating the presidential return of bills, excluding intrasession recesses from the definition of adjournment. The bill never made it through the House. That action typifies the history of the dispute. From time to time, members of Congress have sought legislation limiting the president’s use of the pocket veto, but none of these efforts has ever ripened into law.
Meanwhile, the use of the pocket veto accelerated, bolstered by several attorney general opinions stating that both intersession and intrasession pocket vetoes are constitutional. By 1929, 479 bills had been pocket vetoed, about one-fourth during intersession adjournments but only eight during intrasession breaks. In that year, the Supreme Court decided The Pocket Veto Case. During a five-month intersession adjournment, President Calvin Coolidge had pocket vetoed a bill that would have given entitlements to a group of Indian tribes. The tribes sought to claim their rights, asserting that the president’s veto was invalid and that therefore the bill had become law. The Court unanimously upheld the president’s action. It found no constitutional distinction among the various types of adjournment. The president, the Court declared, could not return a bill to a Congress that was not actually sitting. It was Congress’s choice whether to adjourn before the ten-day period could run its course. Further, the Court found “no substantial basis” for the view that a bill constitutionally could be returned to an adjourned house “by delivering it, with the President’s objections, to an officer or agent of the House.” In Wright v. United States (1938), however, the Court held that a three-day recess by a single house while the other remained in session did not meet the clause’s definition of adjournment.
Beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tenure, presidential power increased and so did the use of the pocket veto. From 1930 until 1972, seventy-six bills fell to vetoes during intrasession breaks and 143 others during intersession adjournments. Presidents accompanied many vetoes with messages explaining the reason for the rejection. The high point of the congressional attack on Roosevelt’s expansive use of the pocket veto came in 1940. Congress passed a bill that would have revived all legislation previously pocket vetoed during non– sine die adjournments of Congress. Congress passed the measure as a means of asserting that Roosevelt’s pocket vetoes had not been valid. The bill was “returned” as a regular veto by President Roosevelt, and the House failed to override. Subsequently, Congress fell back into acquiescence.
The congressional counterattack was renewed during President Richard M. Nixon’s administration, this time through the courts. In Kennedy v. Sampson (1974), a federal court declared an intrasession pocket veto invalid and held that the disputed legislation was validly enacted. Two years later another dispute, Kennedy v. Jones (1976), produced an agreement between Congress and the president limiting the use of the pocket veto to sine die adjournments.
President Ronald Reagan, however, renounced that agreement and made pocket vetoes during intersession adjournments, even though Congress had appointed an agent to receive a “return” of the legislation as a standard veto subject to being overridden. One of President Reagan’s pocket vetoes resulted in a suit by members of Congress. In Barnes v. Kline (1985), a panel of the D.C. Circuit, over a dissent by Judge Robert Bork, held that members of Congress possessed standing to bring the suit and that the issue was “justiciable,” that is, capable of judicial resolution rather than being left to the political branches to decide. The court then held that the Constitution forbids intersession pocket vetoes when Congress has appointed an agent to receive a return. The Barnes court distinguished The Pocket Veto Case by stating that appointing an agent would be valid if it “would not occasion undue delay or uncertainty over the returned bill’s status.”
The Supreme Court vacated the decision as moot, as the law at issue had expired by its own terms. Following the action by the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice declared its opinion that the president’s pocket veto power extends to any adjournment of longer than three days. President George H. W. Bush and President William Jefferson Clinton each used a pocket veto once. President George W. Bush’s administration asserted that the president was entitled to exercise a pocket veto with as little as a three-day recess of the house in which the bill had originated. President Barack Obama has exercised two pocket vetoes, each accompanied by a regular veto of the same bill at the same time. Each time when it returned from its recess, the House of Representatives attempted to override his “regular” veto, solely to show its disapproval of the pocket veto. The overrides failed.
Repeated attempts in Congress to pass legislation stating its view of the pocket veto power continue to fall short of passage. Thus far, anytime Congress has treated a pocket veto as a regular veto and has scheduled an override vote, the attempt has failed. When presidents now exercise the pocket veto, they typically do so, as did President Obama, with a “protective return”: a message declaring the objections to the bill so that if, perchance, a court holds the pocket veto invalid, the bill will be treated as vetoed in the regular manner, rather than becoming law by default. Observers have noted that the purposes of the pocket veto and the return veto are so inconsistent that presidents who use the device of the “protective return” are committing constitutional self-contradiction.
The Veto in Europe
Throughout European history, the veto power was exercised in various forms by rulers or elites within a government. In Rome, the tribal leaders of the plebes (the “tribunes”) had the power to reject legislation from the Roman Senate. In medieval England, the King of England was the supreme lawmaker, but governed through agents such as judges and councils like the “Privy Council.” By the 14th century, a Parliament was regularly meeting and advising the crown with written bills on their recommended legislation. Over time, the king lost the authority to make laws and slowly was reduced to ether approving them or rejecting them. His method of rejecting an act of Parliament was to refuse to give the "royal assent."
In 1597 Elizabeth I refused the royal assent to most parliamentary bills. James I, though he rejected no bills in 1606, told the people it was an act of his grace that he spared them. Charles I refused the royal assent for a militia bill which some have said precipitated the 1643 revolution (Parliament enacted the bill anyway). The last English monarch to refuse the royal assent was Queen Anne in 1707.
George Clinton (1739-1812) was the first governor of New York under New York&aposs 1777 Constitution. The New York governor was a model for the power of veto later given to the American president.
Arkansas Makes History with Veto Override
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) had a say in the SAFE Act -- but he won't have the final one. This afternoon, barely 24 hours after the governor tried to sink a bill to protect children from life-altering transgender surgery and drugs, the state legislature voted to override him. By a 71-24 vote in the house and 28-7 vote in the senate, leaders like Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R) sent a resounding message that they won't be deterred from doing what's right for Arkansas kids.
Monday, after the governor refused to stand up and do the right thing, Robin -- the SAFE Act's House sponsor -- told me on "Washington Watch" that it was tough to watch. ". [A]s soon as the governor's letter explaining the veto arrives, which I suspect will be [Tuesday] at one o'clock, we will address it then. And I hope that we can override the veto and we can protect children in Arkansas now."
An hour after that letter arrived, she and her colleagues did act -- voting for a second time to take that historic step and stop minors from making the worst mistake of their lives. When the governor implied in his veto press conference that the law wasn't needed, Robin dismissed that notion completely. "I would strongly disagree. "No, we're not doing surgery on children in Arkansas. But when you give chemicals to a child, when you give drugs to a child that will cause infertility and long-term health problems, it's the same. If you cut off an arm or give a child the chemicals to cut off an arm, it's the same. I don't see the difference. We can't just turn our back on children -- and I think we can't turn our backs on parents either. Kids are under a lot of pressure these days to go with the trend. And I think we need to have the parents back as well."
Today, Arkansas had the backs of every mom, dad, and child in America. Our biggest congratulations to all of the courageous men and women who refused to be deterred -- not by the governor, not by the Left, and not by the bullies in the media. The people of Arkansas have spoken. And not just for their children but for children around the country -- who all have a better chance of protection now that this state has stepped up and shown them how it's done.
Veto of the Bonus Bill
Two days ago a number of gentlemen from the House of Representatives called upon me and with complete propriety presented their reasons for asking me to approve the House of Representatives bill providing for the immediate payment of adjusted service certificates. In the same spirit of courtesy I am returning this bill today to the House of Representatives.
As I told the gentlemen who waited upon me, I have never doubted the good faith lying behind the reasons which have caused them and the majority of the Congress to advocate this bill. In the same spirit I come before you dispassionately and in good faith to give you, as simply as I can, the reasons which compel me to give it my disapproval.
Under the Constitution, I address this message to the House of Representatives, but at the same time, I am glad that the Senate by coming here in joint session gives me opportunity to give my reasons in person to the other House of the Congress.
As to the right and propriety of the President in addressing the Congress in person, I am very certain that I have never in the past disagreed, and will never in the future disagree, with the Senate or the House of Representatives as to the constitutionality of the procedure. With your permission, I should like to continue from time to time to act as my own messenger.
Eighteen years ago the United States engaged in the World War. A Nation of one hundred and twenty million people was united in the purpose of victory. The millions engaged in agriculture toiled to provide the raw materials and foodstuffs for our armies and for the Nations with whom we were associated. Many other millions employed in industry labored to create the materials for the active conduct of the war on land and sea.
Out of this vast army, consisting of the whole working population of the Nation, four and three-quarter million men volunteered or were drafted into the armed forces of the United States. One-half of them remained within our American continental limits. The other half served overseas and of these, one million four hundred thousand saw service in actual combat.
The people and the Government of the United States have shown a proper and generous regard for the sacrifices and patriotism of all of the four and three-quarter million men who were in uniform no matter where they served.
At the outbreak of the war, the President and the Congress sought and established an entirely new policy in order to guide the granting of financial aid to soldiers and sailors. Remembering the unfortunate results that came from the lack of a veterans' policy after the Civil War, they determined that a prudent and sound principle of insurance should supplant the uncertainties and unfairness of direct bounties. At the same time, their policy encompassed the most complete care for those who had suffered disabilities in service. With respect to the grants made within the lines of this general policy, the President and the Congress have fully recognized that those who served in uniform deserved certain benefits to which other citizens of the Republic were not entitled, and in which they could not participate.
In line with these sound and fair principles, many benefits have been provided for veterans.
During the war itself provision was made for Government allowances for the families and other dependents of enlisted men in service. Disability and death compensation was provided for casualties in line of duty.
The original provisions for these benefits have been subsequently changed and liberalized many times by the Congress. Later generous presumptions for veterans who became ill after the termination of the war were written into the statute to help veterans in their claims for disability. As a result of this liberal legislation for disability and for death compensation, one million one hundred and forty thousand men and women have been benefited.
During the war the Government started a system of voluntary insurance at peace-time rates for men and women in the service.
Generous provision has been made for hospitalization, vocational training and rehabilitation of veterans. You are familiar with this excellent care given to the sick and disabled.
In addition to these direct benefits, the Congress has given recognition to the interest and welfare of veterans in employment matters, through veteran preference in the United States civil service and in the selection of employees under the Public Works Administration, through the establishment of a veterans' employment unit in the Department of Labor, and through provisions favoring veterans in the selection of those employed in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Many States have likewise given special bonuses in cash and veterans' preferences in State and local public employment.
Furthermore, unemployed veterans as a group have benefited more largely than any other group from the expenditure of the great Public Works appropriation of three billion three hundred million dollars made by the Congress in 1933, and under which we are still operating. In like manner the new four-billion-dollar Work Relief Act seeks to give employment to practically every veteran who is receiving relief.
We may measure the benefits extended from the fact that there has been expended up to the end of the last fiscal year more than $7,800,000,000 for these items in behalf of the veterans of the World War, not including sums spent for home or work relief. With our current annual expenditures of some $450,000,000 and the liquidation of outstanding obligations under term insurance and the payment of the service certificates, it seems safe to predict that by the year 1945 we will have expended $13,500,000,000. This is a sum equal to more than three-fourths of the entire cost of our participation in the World War, and ten years from now most of the veterans of that war will be barely past the half century mark.
Payments have been and are being made only to veterans of the World War and their dependents, and not to civilian workers who helped to win that war.
In the light Of our established principles and policies let us consider the case of adjusted compensation. Soon after the close of the war a claim was made by several veterans' organizations that they should be paid some adjusted compensation for their time in uniform. After a complete and fair presentation of the whole subject, followed by full debate in the Congress of the United States, a settlement was reached in 1924.
This settlement provided for adjustment in compensation during service by an additional allowance per day for actual service rendered. Because cash payment was not to be made immediately, this basic allowance was increased by 25 percent and to this was added compound interest for 20 years, the whole to be paid in 1945. The result of this computation was that an amount two and one-half times the original grant would be paid at maturity.
Taking the average case as an example, the Government acknowledged a claim of $400 to be due. This $400, under the provisions of the settlement, with the addition of the 25 percent for deferred payment and the compound interest from that time until 1945, would amount to the sum of $1,000 in 1945. The veteran was thereupon given a certificate containing an agreement by the Government to pay him this $1,000 in 1945 or to pay it to his family if he died at any time before 1945. In effect, it was a paid-up endowment policy in the average case for $1,000 payable in 1945, or sooner in the event of death. Under the provisions of this settlement the total obligation of $1,400,000,000 in 1924 produced a maturity or face value of $3,500,000,000 in 1945.
Since 1924 the only major change in the original settlement was the act of 1931, under which veterans were authorized to borrow up to 50 percent of the face value of their certificates as of 1945. Three million veterans have already borrowed under this provision an amount which, with interest charges, totals $1,700,000,000.
The bill before me provides for the immediate payment of the 1945 value of the certificates. It means paying $1,600,000,000 more than the present value of the certificates. It requires an expenditure of more than $2,200,000,000 in cash for this purpose. It directs payment to the veterans of a much larger sum than was contemplated in the 1924 settlement. It is nothing less than a complete abandonment of that settlement. It is a new straight gratuity or bounty to the amount of $2,600,000,000. It destroys the insurance protection for the dependents of the veterans provided in the original plan. For the remaining period of 10 years they will have lost this insurance.
This proposal, I submit, violates the entire principle of veterans' benefits so carefully formulated at the time of the war and also the entire principle of the adjusted-certificate settlement of 1924.
What are the reasons presented in this bill for this fundamental change in policy? They are set forth with care in a number of "whereas" clauses at the beginning of the bill.
The first of these states as reasons for the cash payment of these certificates at this time: That it will increase the purchasing power of millions of the consuming public that it will provide relief for many who are in need because of economic conditions and that it will lighten the relief burden of cities, counties, and States. The second states that payment will not create any additional debt. The third states that payment now will be an effective method of spending money to hasten recovery.
These are the enacted reasons for the passage of this bill. Let me briefly analyze them.
First, the spending of this sum, it cannot be denied, would result in some expansion of retail trade. But it must be noted that retail trade has already expanded to a condition that compares favorably with conditions before the depression. However, to resort to the kind of financial practice provided in this bill would not improve the conditions necessary to expand 'those industries in which we have the greatest unemployment. The Treasury notes issued under the terms of this bill we know from past experience would return quickly to the banks. We know, too, that the banks have at this moment more than ample credit with which to expand the activities of business and industry generally. The ultimate effect of this bill will not, in the long run, justify the expectations that have been raised by those who argue for it.
The next reason in the first "whereas" clause is that present payment will provide relief for many who are in need because of economic conditions. The Congress has just passed an act to provide work relief for such citizens. Some veterans are on the relief rolls, though relatively not nearly so many as is the case with nonveterans. Assume, however, that such a veteran served in the United States or overseas during the war that he came through in fine physical shape as most of them did that he received an honorable discharge that he is today 38 years old and in full possession of his faculties and health that like several million other Americans he is receiving from his Government relief and assistance in one of many forms—I hold that that able-bodied citizen should be accorded no treatment different from that accorded to other citizens who did not wear a uniform during the World War.
The third reason given in the first "whereas" clause is that payment today would lighten the relief burden of municipalities. Why, I ask, should the Congress lift that burden in respect only to those who wore the uniform? Is it not better to treat every able-bodied American alike and to carry out the great relief program adopted by this Congress in a spirit of equality to all? This applies to every other unit of government through out the Nation.
The second "whereas" clause, which states that the payment of certificates will not create an additional debt, raises a fundamental question of sound finance. To meet a claim of one group by this deceptively easy method of payment will raise similar demands for the payment of claims of other groups. It is easy to see the ultimate result of meeting recurring demands by the issuance of Treasury notes. It invites an ultimate reckoning in uncontrollable prices and in the destruction of the value of savings, that will strike most cruelly those like the veterans who seem to be temporarily benefited. The first person injured by sky-rocketing prices is the man on a fixed income. Every disabled veteran on pension or allowance is on fixed income. This bill favors the able-bodied veteran at the expense of the disabled veteran.
Wealth is not created, nor is it more equitably distributed by this method. A government, like an individual, must ultimately meet legitimate obligations out of the production of wealth by the labor of human beings applied to the resources of nature. Every country that has attempted the form of meeting its obligations which is here provided has suffered disastrous consequences.
In the majority of cases printing-press money has not been retired through taxation. Because of increased costs, caused by inflated prices, new issue has followed new issue, ending in the ultimate wiping out of the currency of the afflicted country. In a few cases, like our own in the period of the Civil War, the printing of Treasury notes to cover an emergency has fortunately not resulted in actual disaster and collapse but has nevertheless caused this Nation untold troubles, economic and political, for a whole generation.
The statement in this same second "whereas" clause that payment will discharge and retire an acknowledged contract obligation of the Government is, I regret to say, not in accordance with the fact. It wholly omits and disregards the fact that this contract obligation is due in 1945 and not today.
If I, as an individual, owe you, an individual member of the Congress, one thousand dollars payable in 1945, it is not a correct statement for you to tell me that I owe you one thousand dollars today. As a matter of practical fact, if I put $750 into a Government savings bond today and make that bond out in your name you will get one thousand dollars on the due date, ten years from now. My debt to you today, therefore, cannot under the remotest possibility be considered more than $750.
The final "whereas" clause, stating that spending the money is the most effective means of hastening recovery, is so ill considered that little comment is necessary. Every authorization of expenditure by the 73d Congress in its session of 1933 and 1934, and every appropriation by the 74th Congress to date, for recovery purposes, has been predicated not on the mere spending of money to hasten recovery, but on the sounder principle of preventing the loss of homes and farms, of saving industry from bankruptcy, of safeguarding bank deposits, and most important of all—of giving relief and jobs through public work to individuals and families faced with starvation. These greater and broader concerns of the American people have a prior claim for our consideration at this time. They have the right of way.
There is before this Congress legislation providing old-age benefits and a greater measure of security for all workers against the hazards of unemployment. We are also meeting the pressing necessities of those who are now unemployed and in need of immediate relief. In all of this every veteran shares.
To argue for this bill as a relief measure is to indulge in the fallacy that the welfare of the country can be generally served by extending relief on some basis other than actual deserving need.
The core of the question is that a man who is sick or under some other special disability because he was a soldier should certainly be assisted as such. But if a man is suffering from economic need because of the depression, even though he is a veteran, he must be placed on a par with all of the other victims of the depression. The veteran who is disabled owes his condition to the war. The healthy veteran who is unemployed owes his troubles to the depression. Each presents a separate and different problem. Any attempt to mingle the two problems is to confuse our efforts.
Even the veteran who is on relief will benefit only temporarily by this measure, because the payment of this sum to him will remove him from the group entitled to relief if the ordinary rules of relief agencies are followed. For him this measure would give but it would also take away. In the end he would be the loser.
The veteran who suffers from this depression can best be aided by the rehabilitation of the country as a whole. His country with honor and gratitude returned him at the end of the war to the citizenry from which he came. He became once more a member of the great civilian population. His interests became identified with its fortunes and also with its misfortunes.
Some years ago it was well said by the distinguished senior Senator from Idaho that: "The soldier of this country cannot be aided except as the country itself is rehabilitated. The soldier cannot come back except as the people as a whole come back. The soldier cannot prosper unless the people prosper. He has now gone back and intermingled and become a part of the citizenship of the country he is wrapped up in its welfare or in its adversity. The handing out to him of a few dollars will not benefit him under such circumstances, whereas it will greatly injure the prospects of the country and the restoration of normal conditions."
It is generally conceded that the settlement by adjusted-compensation certificates made in 1924 was fair and it was accepted as fair by the overwhelming majority of World War veterans themselves.
I have much sympathy for the argument that some who remained at home in civilian employ enjoyed special privilege and unwarranted remuneration. That is true—bitterly true—but a recurrence of that type of war profiteering can and must be prevented in any future war.
I invite the Congress and the veterans with the great masses of the American population to join with me in progressive efforts to root a recurrence of such injustice out of American life. But we should not destroy privilege and create new privilege at the same time. Two wrongs do not make a right.
The herculean task of the United States Government today is to take care that its citizens have the necessities of life. We are seeking honestly and honorably to do this, irrespective of class or group. Rightly, we give preferential treatment to those men who were wounded, disabled, or who became ill as a result of war service. Rightly, we give care to those who subsequently have become ill. The others—and they represent the great majority—are today in the prime of life, are today in full bodily vigor. They are American citizens who should be accorded equal privileges and equal rights to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—no less and no more.
It is important to make one more point. In accordance with the mandate of the Congress, our Budget has been set. The public has accepted it. On that basis this Congress has made and is making its appropriations. That Budget asked for appropriations in excess of receipts to the extent of four billions of dollars. The whole of that deficit was to be applied for work relief for the unemployed. That was a single-minded, definite purpose. Every unemployed veteran on the relief rolls was included in that proposed deficit he will be taken care of out of it.
I cannot in honesty assert to you that to increase that deficit this year by two billion two hundred million dollars will in itself bankrupt the United States. Today the credit of the United States is safe. But it cannot ultimately be safe if we engage in a policy of yielding to each and all of the groups that are able to enforce upon the Congress claims for special consideration. To do so is to abandon the principle of government by and for the American people and to put in its place government by and for political coercion by minorities. We can afford all that we need but we cannot afford all that we want.
I do not need to be a prophet to assert that if these certificates, due in 1945, are paid in full today, every candidate for election to the Senate or to the House of Representatives will in the near future be called upon in the name of patriotism to support general pension legislation for all veterans, regardless of need or age.
Finally, I invite your attention to the fact that, solely from the point of view of the good credit of the United States, the complete failure of the Congress to provide additional taxes for an additional expenditure of this magnitude would in itself and by itself alone warrant disapproval of this measure.
I well know the disappointment that the performance of my duty in this matter will occasion to many thousands of my fellow citizens. I well realize that some who favor this bill are moved by a true desire to benefit the veterans of the World War and to contribute to the welfare of the Nation. These citizens will, however, realize that I bear an obligation, as President and as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, which extends to all groups, to all citizens, to the present and to the future. I cannot be true to the office I hold if I do not weigh the claims of all in the scales of equity. I cannot swerve from this moral obligation.
I am thinking of those who served their country in the Army and in the Navy during the period which convulsed the entire civilized world. I saw their service at first-hand at home and overseas. I am thinking of those millions of men and women who increased crops, who made munitions, who ran our railroads, who worked in the mines, who loaded our ships during the war period.
I am thinking of those who died in the cause of America here and abroad, in uniform and out I am thinking of the widows and orphans of all of them I am thinking of five millions of Americans who, with their families, are today in dire need, supported in whole or in part by Federal, State, and local governments who have decreed that they shall not starve. I am thinking not only of the past, not only of today, but of the years to come. In this future of ours it is of first importance that we yield not to the sympathy which we would extend to a single group or class by special legislation for that group or class, but that we should extend assistance to all groups and all classes who in an emergency need the helping hand of their Government.
I believe the welfare of the Nation, as well as the future welfare of the veterans, wholly justifies my disapproval of this measure.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I return, without my approval, House of Representatives bill No. 3896, providing for the immediate payment to veterans of the 1945 face value of their adjusted service certificates.
APP NOTE: This message was delivered as an address to a joint session of Congress.