The importance of a veto threat

This is a fairly heavy hitting article, so be warned before you set out! However, a much more nuanced yet simple point can be drawn from it – the importance of a veto threat from the President.

An earlier post looks at the looming shutdown on October 1, the main stumbling block of which is the debate over planned parenthood (i.e. at the heart of it, the funding for abortions). Given the separation of powers in the U.S., the ability of the President to influence Congress has come up as an exam question in the past. Most commonly this refers to the President’s power of ‘persuasion’. The problem with such a term is the limited factual evidence for students to use.

In this instance however, the Office of Management and Budget (good evidence for the EXOP vs. Federal Bureaucracy topic) have issued a statement saying that attempts to pass bills defunding planned parenthood will be vetoed by Obama:

This is a great example of the persuasion that a President can leverage. To issue such a statement, a President must be willing to follow through on his threat; not doing so would make him look weak. But if Congress believe he will follow through on his threat then he will hope that this threat will be enough to make them reconsider the legislation they are planning. This is particularly important in this case as with so few days before a shutdown, neither side can afford to be bouncing back and forth vetoed bills. Therefore, this threat may prove enough to alter the course of what Congress is doing, a useful example for the offices of persuasion.

On a side note, it is worth noting this would only be Obama’s fourth veto. Many of my students will know of the danger of over-using the veto. The veto is a blunt but powerful weapon and should be used with care to maximise impact. Constant threats or an unwillingness to use it entirely can give Congress the upper hand. As the President approaches the end of his presidency (the time at which he most likely to become a lame duck) it is common to see increased use of the veto and demonstrates that he is not, yet, a lame duck.