Presidential Vetoes and Public Policy

Richard A. Watson

The veto power, claimed Woodrow Wilson, is the president's most formidable prerogative. Despite that assertion, Richard Watson shows that the presidential veto of significant legislation is frequently overridden by Congress.

Although the veto has a major impact on public policy, past research on it has dealt only with legal and historical issues. This is the first systematic, in-depth study of the actual effect of the use of the veto. Watson focuses on those elements of the policy-making process that influence presidential veto decisions. His analysis of presidential vetoes from Franklin Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter clarifies the problems caused by the veto and reveals how it has shaped public policy. He tells what conditions provoke the president's reliance on the veto and Congress's decision whether to try to override it. He also explores why vetoes have often triggered bitter disputes over the degree and scope of presidential power and its role in the legislative process.

“A very important and insightful book, sophisticated yet fully available to the general reader. Watson dissects the strategy and success of the veto power with analytical vigor. One of his interesting findings is that the balance of power between the president and Congress is much more even than appears to be the case on the surface. Also revealing are Watson’s breakdowns of vetoes into substantive areas, party affiliations, public opinion, and national crises.”

—Louis Fisher, author of Constitutional Conflicts between Congress and the President

“Informative, readable, and well-researched, this is a serious contribution to our understanding of the politics of the presidential veto. Watson is especially good on detailing what happens after a presidential veto—who wins and who loses.”

—Thomas E. Cronin, author of Direct Democracy: The Politics of the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall

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Watson concludes that the veto power has operated well in terms of both public policy and relations between Congress and the president and argues that it would be a mistake to alter it through the adoption of an item veto.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series