220 American Government and Politics
Spring, 2000

Kenneth Janda, Instructor

Week 8: The Presidency and the Bureaucracy
Lecture 3: President, Rule-Making, and the Budget

May 18

Foundation and growth of President's rule-making (legislative) powers

  • The constitution provides the president with legislative powers under two categories
    • approving legislation: signing or vetoing congressional bills
    • suggesting legislation to Congress.
  • The Constitution is more explicit on the president's role in approving legislation:
    • In 75 years prior to President Andrew Johnson's administration after the Civil War, presidents had used their veto powers only 59 times.
    • In the next 80 years, through FDR, presidents exercised 1,710 vetoes
      • 584 by Cleveland alone
      • 635 by Roosevelt
    • In the 50 years from Roosevelt to Bush, the veto was used about 750 times
      • 200 by Truman
      • 181 by Eisenhower
      • 78 by Reagan, who had only 9 overridden
      • 46 by Bush, who had only 1 overridden--when Congress enacted cable television reregulation
    • Bill Clinton was the first president since 1853 (Millard Fillmore) who failed to veto a single bill during an entire Congress, 1993-94.
    • But in 1995, under the Republican Congress
      • Clinton vetoed 11 pieces of legislation
      • Only one, a bill to limit lawsuits by shareholders claiming social security fraud, was passed over his veto.
    • As a result of the impass between the president and congress, only 88 bills were passed in 1995--the lowest total since 1933.
    • He vetoed 6 more bills in 1996
      • His 17 vetoes were the lowest in a full term since Wilson
      • Less than half of the 46 by Bush
    • But 245 bills were enacted in 1996, compared with 88 in 1995
  • The Constitution is indirect on the president's role in suggesting legislation:
    • Article II, Section 3 states that the president
      • "shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union,
      • and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient"
    • Presidents have interpreted "time to time" as meaning that they should instruct the Congress annually on "the State of the Union"
  • Congress itself has expanded the president's role in suggesting legislation:
    • Mr. President, please prepare the budget!
      • Prior to the 1920s, the Congress prepared its own budget, but badly.
      • The Budgeting and Accounting Act of 1921 required that the president prepare the nation's budget.
      • It also required the president to deliver an annual Budget Message.
      • This message has become the vehicle for most specific legislative requests
        • The president's duty to prepare and submit a budget to Congress is only based in legislation
        • Congress could take upon itself the responsibility of preparing a budget at any time.
      • When Congress is controlled by the opposition party, the president's budget is often reworked extensively by Congress.
    • Mr. President, please take charge of the economy!
      • The Employment Act of 1946 required that the president review the state of the economy, including the current and foreseeable trends in the levels of
        • employment,
        • production, and
        • purchasing power
      • The 1946 Act also required the president to deliver an annual Economic Report to the Congress
    • Mr. President, please strike out wasteful expenditures that we placed in your budget!
      • A 1996 act gave the president the line-item veto on budget items.
      • It's truly ironic that Congress surrendered this power to a willing president.
  • President's acceptance of role to initiate legislation
    • Increased use of the Office of Management and Budget to prepare a legislative program
    • Congress now not only expects the president to suggest legislation but awaits for his specific proposals in the form of a legislative program 

Lessons in the growth of presidential power

  • For much of our history, Congress has not only acquiesced in the growth of the powers of the presidency, but Congress has actually granted powers to the president.
    • Because institutional rivalry is at the heart of our system of separated powers, one might expect that Congress would jealously guard its power--and it usually does.
    • But sometime, Congress consciously grants power to the president:
      • 1921 Budget message
      • 1946 Economic Report
      • 1996 Line-item veto
  • Congress may also unwittingly increase powers of the president:
    • This would be the effect of term limits.
    • Ironically, the Contract with America's proposed constitutional amendment requiring the president to submit a balanced budget would also increase the president's power.
      • At present, the president's authority to prepare the budget exists only in legislation.
      • The budget amendment would require the president to prepare a balanced budget--thus conferring a new presidential power.
      • Congress could not take this power from the president, as it can now.

How much power does the president actually have in the legislative process?

  • The president cannot submit legislation to Congress, but must have someone introduce it for him.
    • Obviously, the president has an interest in legislation introduced on his behalf.
    • He also has an interest in other legislation introduced in Congress.
  • How much support does Congress provide to presidents when they take positions on bills?
    • Since the early 1950s, Congressional Quarterly has assessed congressional voting on bills on which there was a clear presidential position.
    • In general, presidents are supported more frequently by members of their own party (about 2/3 of the time) than by members of the opposition (less than half the time).
  • What factors account for differences in presidential success?
    • THE CHALLENGE OF DEMOCRACY contends that the president's power is the power to persuade.
    • This suggests that success with the congress varies with presidential popularity.
    • Presidents today are affected by outside events, but they can try to influence popularity through television addresses at formal and informal occasions.