Bipartisanship is alive on Capitol Hill -- House Democrats and Republicans came together Tuesday morning to join forces against a common, longstanding enemy: the executive branch and the "pocket veto".
On December 16, Congress passed a war-spending bill to fund the Department of Defense just as money was about to run out for the agency. So that President Obama would have time to read the full bill before signing it, Congress also passed a "continuing resolution" (CR), funding the DoD for an extra week.
Obama decided not to take that time and quickly signed the DoD bill, making the CR redundant. But instead of vetoing it, he sent it back to Congress on December 30, without his signature, asserting his "pocket veto" powers.
Congress hates pocket vetoes, considering them an affront to its constitutional authority. Before adjourning, the House specifically designated a clerk to be available to receive messages from the White House. Since someone was home, the House insists, there can be no pocket veto.
Even more to the point, Obama sent the bill -- parchment and all -- back to the House. The bill, the House now argues, can't be in his pocket because the chamber has it right here.
To make their objection to the president's pocket veto clear, both parties intend to take up the veto on Tuesday afternoon and vote to sustain it. A vote sustaining the veto is the House's way of asserting that it was not a pocket veto.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, spoke out against the veto on the House floor Tuesday morning. "[I]n that veto message, [the president] suggested in some ways that he was -- he had in fact pocket vetoed the legislation. But the fact is clear that the Congress was here to receive a message, and we do not consider it a pocket veto, and, therefore, we feel that the appropriate action to be taken is to sustain the veto and take this action to demonstrate that in our judgment a pocket veto is not appropriate, that the president exercised irregular veto and it should be treated as such," said Obey.
In a rare moment of agreement, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) backed his Democratic rival. "I wanted to rise in support of the position taken by my friend, Mr. Obey," said Young, perhaps for the first time ever. "I find it a little ironic that here we are having to defend the constitutional prerogatives of the Congress in a joint resolution that was originally sent to the president to respect his constitutional prerogatives."
According to the Congressional Research Service, 37 of 44 presidents have used the veto a total of 2,563 times. Of those, 1,066 were pocket vetoes. President James Madison was responsible for the first pocket veto. President Bush went his full first term without a veto.
The pocket veto was waning before Obama made use of it, a trend Congress would like to see continue. President Clinton only used the authority once; Bush
never used it. used it once. [Correction: Bush used the device in December 2007. CRS lists Bush as never having used the pocket veto because it doesn't consider what Bush did -- or what Obama did, for that matter -- to be constitutionally valid pocket vetoes, since the House did have someone available to receive the message. From the congressional perspective, a pocket veto can only be exercised at the end of a two-year session of Congress, but not in the middle of one.]
Read Obama's veto message:
The enactment of H.R. 3326 (Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010, Public Law 111-118), which was signed into law on December 19, 2009, has rendered the enactment of
H.J.Res. 64 (Continuing Appropriations, FY 2010) unnecessary. Accordingly, I am withholding my approval from the bill. (The Pocket Veto Case, 279 U.S. 655 (1929)).
To leave no doubt that the bill is being vetoed as unnecessary legislation, in addition to withholding my signature, I am also returning H.J.Res. 64 to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, along with this Memorandum of Disapproval.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
December 30, 2009.