Obama’s 2015 challenge: Veni, vidi, veto

Now that the Republicans control both houses of Congress, there’s no question that they’re going to pass bad bills that have no chance of becoming law.

Both House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky already have announced some items at the top of their GOP agenda: passage of the Keystone XL Pipeline — something McConnell has said is his first order of business — and the repeal of or changes to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. On the ACA, it will be at least the 50th vote the House has taken to repeal some aspect of the law — I’ve lost count by this time. But no doubt some new Tea Party types in both the House and Senate will demand that they get to go on record as voting to repeal the whole thing.

According to an article in The Atlantic, Boehner and McConnell “want to score victories early in 2015 to show voters Congress can function.” They want to show the American people that “the logjam in Washington has been broken,” as the two men wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal (now available as a post on the speaker’s website).

Besides some action on taxes and trade, the two GOP leaders want to get rid of the ACA’s definition of a 30-hour work week as full-time employment and boost the number of charter schools. McConnell especially wants to weaken the EPA and soften its rules on coal mining, specifically the requirement that carbon emissions be cut by 30 percent by 2030. They’re still railing about the national debt, even though the deficit has dropped precipitously since Obama has been in office.

And Republicans are clamoring for action on jobs, even though the jobs picture has brightened considerably, with a 5.6 percent unemployment rate, and the economy is growing at a rapid pace — GDP grew by 5 percent in the third quarter. But of course, what Republicans call a “jobs” bill is called a tax-giveaway for corporations by Democrats and many economists.

The president should — and will — veto many of those bad ideas, and he has stated publicly many times that he’s not afraid of using his veto pen. “I suspect there are going to be some times where I’ve got to pull that pen out,” Obama told NPR in a year-end interview. “And I’m going to defend gains that we’ve made in health care; I’m going to defend gains that we’ve made on environment and clean air and clean water.”

How about immigration? As he has for six years, Obama would welcome action by Congress on immigration reform. But does Boehner have the power to control anti-immigration legislators like Rep. Steve King of Iowa? The guy who said border crossers have calves the size of cantaloupes? Boehner has not shown that he has much control over the extremists in his party; I can’t imagine that changing now that they’ve won a few more seats.

The start of any new congressional term is full of feel-good talk about bipartisan cooperation, but it never lasts long. Boehner and McConnell think they can swing a few Democratic votes to make some of their bills sound “bipartisan,” but they won’t be. McConnell will need six Democratic senators to vote with the new GOP majority to overcome a filibuster to take up a bill for an actual vote. With some of these ideas so extreme, he’s not going to have too much support.

During his years in office at the end of and after World War II, President Harry Truman became the veto king of modern presidents, nixing a whopping 250 bills sent to him from a Republican Congress (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually vetoed 635, but he was elected four times). Some of his vetoes were overridden, including the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act and a bill to reduce individual income-tax payments. With the 54-46 GOP-Democratic split in the Senate, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s vetoes being overridden, since override votes require a two-thirds majority. (No doubt some new Tea Party types in Congress never got that far in reading the Constitution; some of them still think they will have the votes to impeach and convict the president to remove him from office, too.)

Obama has issued only two vetoes so far. That number is going to start growing exponentially.

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