Politics & Policy

Vetoing Bipartisanship

(Getty Images)
Obama has claimed he wants to cooperate with the new Congress, but his veto threats tell another story.

At the State of the Union, the president is expected to offer his vision for the coming year. But after six years, we already know his centralized, top-down approach just doesn’t work. Washington needs a shake-up. It’s time to try some new ideas, and the House has already started passing bipartisan legislation that has never made it to the president’s desk.

Unfortunately, only three weeks into the new year, President Obama is sticking to the past and has already threatened to veto five House bills.

There is a simple formula for divided government to work together. First, you need a Congress that passes good bills that both sides can support. Next, you need a president who is willing to work with Congress to find areas of agreement so both parties can accept the resolution.

History shows that divided government can accomplish a lot. President Reagan and Tip O’Neill tackled tax reform. President Clinton and Newt Gingrich reformed the welfare system. The big difference between them and us is that they didn’t start off with veto threats.

Last Congress, the House tried to make divided government work. Of the 382 bills we passed that got stuck in the Senate under Harry Reid, at least 275 of them had enough votes to be veto-proof. These were bills that passed either by an overwhelming voice vote or received at least 100 Democratic votes.

This year, with an open Senate, we thought the House’s record of bipartisanship would yield different results. So far, Congress is keeping up its side of the bargain. But despite the president’s claim that he’s willing to cooperate, his veto threats tell a different story. 

The five bills that President Obama has already threatened to veto have received 106 Democrat votes overall. These aren’t radical bills, and House Republicans aren’t trying to make a political statement with them. These are straightforward pieces of legislation that help middle-class families, small businesses, and veterans who are still struggling in this economy. They are bills that promote energy infrastructure, scale back job-killing regulations, and restore the constitutional separation of powers. Americans would prefer if they were made into law.

Here’s the lay of the land so far: In our first week of Congress, the House passed a bipartisan bill to restore the 40-hour workweek that Obamacare destroyed. This will directly help those who have had their hours cut and wages reduced because of the President’s health-care law. Republicans would prefer a full repeal, but to get the ball rolling in divided government, we opted for this 40-hour workweek bill to change just one particularly harmful part of the law.

President Obama responded by threatening a veto.

The next day the House passed a bipartisan bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. A majority of Americans are in favor of the project, the State Department has said it wouldn’t harm the environment, the Nebraska Supreme Court gave it the go-ahead, and it would create thousands of jobs and support North American energy independence. If anything, the president and Congress can agree on that.

Yet President Obama threatened to veto it.

Then last week, the House passed a modest and reasonable regulatory-reform bill requiring agencies to choose the least costly rulemaking option possible, to use the best obtainable science, and to allow greater public input — all agreeable fixes considering the mountains of red tape Washington produces every year. The American people are firmly in favor of scaling back regulation, and 29 Democrats voted with Republicans to approve the bill.

Again, President Obama threatened a veto.

All of this should make it clear that the president hasn’t yet been willing to work with Congress on the issues that are most important to the American people. Instead, he is focusing on left-wing pet projects such as creating a costly and ineffective community-college scheme or regulating the Internet like a utility. This comes at the expense of working on key issues like the economy and jobs.

We hope the president will stop the political games and start engaging with us. In the meantime, the House will remain focused on the people’s priorities. When President Obama decides to put away the veto pen, roll up his sleeves, and get to work, we’ll be waiting for him.

— Kevin McCarthy is the representative of California’s 23rd district and serves as the majority leader in the House of Representatives.

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