Has now vetoed more bills -- one -- than John...

BILL CLINTON

June 12, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

BILL CLINTON has now vetoed more bills -- one -- than John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore and James A. Garfield combined!

But, with the exception of Garfield, who died a few months after being inaugurated, Clinton has vetoed fewer than every president since Fillmore left office in 1853.

The presidential veto was not a popular political or governmental tool in the early days of the nation.

It was debated at length in the Constitutional Convention. Some men there thought what was then called "the negative of the executive" was too great a power to be given to one person. Virginians proposed that the president and a group of judges together could veto an act of Congress but not alone.

Most of the Framers of the Constitution were concerned because of what they had seen and read about in Europe, where kings could over-rule parliaments. Ben Franklin had a closer-to-home object lesson. He told the convention that the veto power of the proprietary governor of Pennsylvania "was constantly made use of to extort money. No good law whatever could be passed without a private bargain with him. An increase of his salary; or some donation, was always made a condition; till at last it became the regular practice to have orders in his favor on the Treasury presented along with bills to be signed, so that he might actually receive the former before he should sign the latter."

(Agnew told you it didn't start with him!)

The convention adopted the present veto with a two-thirds House or Senate override, and it eventually become a powerful presidential club, even when left in the closet.

Post-Civil War was the beginning of its real use. Andrew Johnson vetoed 29 bills. And was overridden 15 times. And was impeached!

U.S. Grant cast 93 vetoes -- more than all his predecessors put together -- and was only overridden four times. No other president since Grant came that close to 100 vetoes -- except the four champs:

* Third Runner-up Dwight Eisenhower cast 181 and was overridden only twice in his eight years. Almost all of that time Republican Ike had a Democratic Congress.

* Second Runner-up Harry Truman's record was 250 and 12. Most of his eight years Congress was, like him, Democratic.

* First Runner-up Grover Cleveland. That Democratic president dealt with a Republican House or Senate for six of his eight years in office. His record was 584 and 7.

* There he is! Mr. Veto! Franklin D. Roosevelt. Though he had a friendly Democratic House and Senate for every one of his 12 years in office, he still compiled a 635 and 9 record.

Bill Clinton will do well to match even his recent one-term predecessors by the end of 1996. George Bush vetoed 44 bills and was overridden once, and Jimmy Carter's record was 31 and 2.

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