While the powers of the executive branch may have increased substantially from George Washington to George W., there is one feature of presidential authority that has always been in play — the veto.
That particular feature was exercised today by President Bush, who made good on his promise to veto the Medicare bill that finally made it through the Senate last week. It is Bush's 12th veto since he took office, and became his third to be overridden — two numbers that sound fairly average. But as a chart of presidential vetoes reveals, when it comes to turning down bills, there's nary a pattern to be found — and hardly even a range considered normal.
The veto's role over the years has shifted dramatically from president to president: while seven presidents chose not to use it at all, the other end of the spectrum is just as extreme — over four terms FDR had 635 in total, and in one alone Grover Cleveland managed to squeeze in 414. Veto success rates are slightly more stable — most fall somewhere in the 80-100 percent range — but even there we find dramatic outliers, with Franklin Pierce having a rather deflated 44.4 percent, and Andrew Johnson bottoming out at a depressing 26.8 percent.
Indeed, if Congress acts as predicted to override the most recent veto, Bush's success rate would join Pierce and Johnson's as one of the lowest. But with such unpredictable numbers, that shouldn't be too great a concern — there will always be a more dramatic figure to point to.
* * *
This post is one of a Miller-McCune.com series on intriguing, amusing, and memorable moments of the American presidency inspired by the American Presidency Project (www.americanpresidency.org) and running until the November election.