- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

President Obama’s last year in office is shaping up as the Year of the Veto.

After vetoing only seven bills over the first seven years of his presidency, Mr. Obama has vetoed two measures already in January.

What’s more, the White House has issued veto threats against all five pieces of legislation to come out of the House since Jan. 1, from a measure to cut “burdensome” government regulations to a bill that would give Congress greater oversight of the Iranian nuclear deal. A House vote on the latter is scheduled for the week of Feb. 1.

The president, who has yet to hold a meeting with new Republican Speaker Paul D. Ryan, huddled Tuesday at the White House with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Vice President Joseph R. Biden to discuss legislative priorities.

White House deputy press secretary Jen Friedman said they talked about possibilities for “action on a bipartisan basis,” including criminal justice reform, tackling Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and “addressing the opioid epidemic.” Their strategy session came as Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden prepare to address Democratic lawmakers at their annual retreat, in Baltimore, on Thursday.

People in both parties say there is a window of opportunity until early summer for compromise in Congress, before the presidential race and congressional campaigns crowd out significant legislative action. But there’s also a history of frosty relations between Mr. Obama and Republican leaders, and now Mr. Ryan has adopted a strategy of sending more bills to the president’s desk that he’s likely to veto.

The Wisconsin Republican said this week that Mr. Obama’s agenda is out of step with most of America. The president, he said, is “trying to make it look like his program is mainstream.”

“I think he lives in his own sort of fantasy land,” Mr. Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think he sees the world as what he wishes it would be and then he talks and acts accordingly.”

As the veto war heats up, the presidential race is playing a role.

“The goal of Barack Obama in 2016 will have to be undoubtedly [to] bait Republicans into being angry reactionaries so that they can’t win, so that the left [and] his successor can win by default and cement his legacy,” Mr. Ryan said.

The speaker also acknowledges that his approach, which will force more confrontations with the White House, is designed to show voters what’s at stake in the presidential race.

“We decided this year, we’re going to lay out a case for the country, a specific, bold, conservative pro-growth agenda for how we get us back on our axis, how we get our country back on track,” Mr. Ryan said. “We’re asking the country for a mandate election by saying here’s what we will do if you give us a Republican president and a Republican Congress, so that when we get elected, and if you give us this ability, you hold us accountable for doing it.”

Republican strategist John Feehery said the political tactics in play are as much a consideration as the policies at stake.

“The veto game is an important way to differentiate between the parties,” Mr. Feehery said. “It helps political leaders to put blame on the other guy, which is especially important to the political base. It’s far better to get a veto [than] to have something snuffed out by Senate procedure.”

The White House wouldn’t comment Tuesday on the vetoes or Mr. Ryan’s criticism. The president has said in veto messages that he rejected legislation that would have, for example, repealed the Affordable Care Act or, in his view, undermined the nuclear deal with Iran.

And in his final State of the Union address, Mr. Obama expressed the hope that he can work with congressional Republicans this year on approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, reforming the criminal justice system, addressing poverty, authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State, tackling heroin abuse and developing a “moonshot” program to cure cancer.

Whether Mr. Obama continues to wield his veto pen more often this year could depend on Mr. Reid’s ability to derail Republican legislative priorities in the Senate.

So far in the 114th Congress, which began in January 2015, the White House has issued 45 veto threats — about 69 percent of all measures to receive floor votes in the House and Senate. On six other occasions, the White House expressed “strong opposition” to bills without expressly threatening a veto.

But Mr. Obama vetoed only five of those 51 bills that the White House found so objectionable in 2015, largely because Mr. Reid and his fellow Senate Democrats have used the filibuster to prevent the measures from reaching the president’s desk.

John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Mr. Obama “hasn’t had lots of opportunities to veto” due to the 60-vote rule in the Senate for moving legislation.

“There’s still the power on the Democratic side to block things before they get to the president’s desk,” he said. “Whoever the new president is, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the ‘new norm.’ If you have divided government, there is much less crossover” voting between parties.

So far this month, Mr. Obama has vetoed a measure that would have reversed his administration’s new EPA regulations governing small bodies of water and the bill that would have repealed Obamacare.

To date, Mr. Obama’s total of nine vetoes (and no overrides by Congress) doesn’t come close to exceeding most of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton issued 37 vetoes over eight years, and President Ronald Reagan issued 78 in two terms — nine of which were overridden by Congress.

President George W. Bush vetoed 12 pieces of legislation, including 11 in his final two years in office. Congress overrode four of his vetoes. And Republican President George H.W. Bush issued 44 vetoes in his one term, facing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

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