Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Road Trip

President Obama is raising the ante on the stimulus bill. He plans to sign the legislation today in Colorado, at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

There is a wide range of potential presidential responses to a bill passed by Congress. As I see it, the one that's intended to signal presidential approval in the most high-profile way, is to sign it in a public ceremony away from Washington.

A site for such an event is chosen for symbolic reasons. The science museum is meant to point up the stimulus plan's spending for alternative energy.

Lyndon Johnson signed the original Medicare bill in 1965, at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, in one of the more memorable past examples of this type of signing ceremony. Truman had unsuccessfully advocated a socialist health care system during his presidency, and it's still possible that Medicare will represent the first step toward the eventual adoption of such a system in the U.S.

Of course, the White House, which provides a powerful venue for any event, is not a bad place to draw attention to a new law, either. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the executive mansion. The leaders of both parties had supported that legislation, and the Washington site made it more feasible for the entire congressional leadership to attend. But that type of scene could not be created for a bill such as the stimulus package, which was passed by near-party-line votes in both houses.

When there's legislation that a president deems necessary, but he wants to draw no more attention to it than necessary, he can sign it privately. And, if he really wants to avoid being identified with it, he can let it become law without his signature, by taking no action on it for 10 business days, while Congress is in session.

His other option is to veto the bill, and a president can also draw a greater or lesser degree of attention to that action. If Congress has adjourned in the meantime, then presidential inaction equals veto (the so-called "pocket veto").

Obama's high-profile (and mile-high) signature ceremony should accentuate the effect I mentioned here, of tying his Democratic Party's future prospects to perceived success of the stimulus program. On the other hand, to the extent the plan is perceived as a failure, that should aid the Republican Party, almost all of whose members in both houses of Congress opposed it.

1 comment:

Terry L. Johnson said...

Interesting to note that the directive to deploy an additional 17,000 troops and marines to Afganistan was done behind closed doors without benefit of an audience or a camera crew.