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Showdown Avoided

January 17, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

A constitutional showdown began shaping up after President Bush pocket vetoed the Congress-passed Department of Defense Authorization bill while Congress was technically in session. Unlike regular vetoes, pocket vetoes are not eligible to be overridden by Congress and they can not be executed while Congress is in session. Bush’s pocket veto of the Defense bill occurred during Congress’ winter vacation. The only problem was that the Senate had been meeting during the vacation to hold brief pro-form sessions in order to block Bush from bypassing the normal confirmation and appointing federal officials using recess appointments. Technically, the Senate was there to receive the veto message of the Defense bill.

Originally, there were some rumblings among congressional Democrats that they would treat the President’s pocket veto as a regular veto and attempt an override vote. That route would have escalated the situation to a constitutional showdown — if the override succeeded, would the bill become law despite the un-overridable pocket veto?

But in the end, Congress decided to rework the bill to address Bush’s concerns and pass it again for him to sign. The House passed the revamped bill on Wednesday by a vote of 369-46 and the Senate is expected to easily approve it when they come back into session next week. The bill contains military bonuses and pay raises, veterans’ health insurance payments, and military retirement pay, among other thing, so there are a lot of people out there who will be happy that Congress decided to play it safe rather than proudly contest the legality of the pocket veto.

GovExec explains the little-noticed objectionable provision and how it was made more palatable to the President:

>The original provision, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., expanded the ability of American victims of terrorism to sue current and former state sponsors of terrorism for damages in U.S. courts. The language essentially would have held the current Iraqi government liable for suits filed by victims of former President Saddam Hussein’s regime.
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>The new language includes a presidential waiver for all claims against Iraq that occurred before enactment of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill. The president must notify Congress within 30 days of issuing the waiver or it cannot go into effect.
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>House lawmakers also added non-binding “sense of the Congress” language urging the president to work with the Iraqi government to compensate Saddam’s victims.

The above image is of Bush signing the Defense Authorization bill in 2002.

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