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Is That a Veto in Your Pocket?

Congress and the Bush administration are playing a game of constitutional footsie with a bill that sets funding levels for the Pentagon and includes a pay increase for members of the military.

Over the next two weeks lawmakers will return to Washington for the second session of the 110th Congress and the most pressing bit of unfinished business is the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill.

Fans of esoteric constitutional showdowns will remember that the bill got caught in an unusual spat between the executive and legislative branches that prevented it from being signed into law last month.

After weeks of negotiations, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a bill in December, and the compromise measure passed both the House and Senate by large margins right before members went home for the holidays. But instead of signing the bill as expected, President Bush refused to do so due to his opposition to a minor provision that would allow the freezing of U.S.-held assets owned by foreign governments that are being sued by Americans. The Iraqi government has warned the White House that the bill might allow current Iraqi assets to be frozen by people suing for actions taken by Saddam Hussein's government.

Bush didn't veto the bill in the normal manner, instead executing what's called a "pocket veto." Under the Constitution, if the president receives a bill and doesn't sign it for 10 days when Congress is in session, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress is out of session when those 10 days are up, the bill is effectively vetoed.

But Congressional Democrats contend that Bush couldn't pocket veto the defense bill because the Senate never actually went into recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has kept the chamber in a series of brief "pro forma," or ceremonial, sessions in order to block Bush from making any recess appointments of executive branch nominees. Perhaps anticipating that argument, Bush officially returned the bill to the House along with a rarely used "Memorandum of Disapproval."

Confused yet? So is Capitol Briefing. The bottom line is that there won't be a big showdown between the branches in federal court; Congress and the White House expect to resolve the issue soon one way or another, though Democratic leaders haven't yet decided how.

The official House schedule for this week put out by the Majority Leader's office says the chamber will hold a vote "disposing of the president's veto" of the defense bill. That could mean a standard veto override vote -- which the White House would likely contend is meaningless, since Bush didn't veto the bill in the normal fashion.

But while no decisions have been made, Democratic sources suggest that leaders are leaning toward simply referring the Defense bill back to the Armed Services Committee for a quick fix of the offending provision. Then the House would simply vote again on the revised bill, as would the Senate when it returns next week, and everyone could put their copies of the constitution back on the bookshelf.

By Ben Pershing  |  January 14, 2008; 4:52 PM ET
Categories:  Branch vs. Branch  
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And people wonder why Congress gets even lower approval ratings than the President.

Congress needs to stop playing games (i.e. "ceremonial sessions"), pass bills that don't have problems in them, and start fixing things like Social Security (ignored by Congress)and illegal immigration (held up by the extreme wings of both parties).

Posted by: Paul S | January 15, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Congress has low ratings becuase the Dems won;t stick it to Bush, the GOP won't do anything but what the party leadership wants. Playing footsy was a completely acceptable political move to Keep bush in check. it's time he learned that the government is not just built up of his dictatorship, and what he can get the supreme court to aloow him to do with the constitution. maybe if jokers like you would wake up, and start voting smart, we wouldn;t be in the ess we are today.

Posted by: fly in ointment | January 15, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Paul S.--Bush doesn't have the nerve to actually veto the thing, but uses political games to cut it off, then you accuse Congress of games by staying in session? Ridiculous--either admit that both sides are playing games, or that neither is, but don't try to say Bush is standing on firm ground with integrity, while blaming Congress for staying in session, which they are doing purely to block Bush from sneaking recess appointments in without the necessary (via the constitution) congressional approval (aka more political games by Bush).

I'm Republican, but I also have a brain. I don't think ANY president, (R) or (D), should circumvent the constitution and congress, and I don't apply double standards to Bush.

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