How a bill becomes a law: another cherished civics myth destroyed
February 20, 2013, 9:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This debate over who is to ‘blame’ for ‘sequestration’, the President or Congress, is more than a little weird. I know I’m getting to be a broken-record but there must be something seriously wrong with what I was taught in 5th Grade Civics because, in my recollection, How A Bill Becomes A Law was always pretty clear-cut. The standard procedure:

  1. Congress passes it.
  2. The President signs it.

That means they’re both ‘to blame’. It also means neither can ‘blame’ the other. If, in particular, the President didn’t want this law to be in force, causing this supposedly-horrible ‘sequestration’ thing to happen, he needn’t have signed it back then, and (absent a veto-proof Congressional majority) it wouldn’t be happening now. Similarly, the law wouldn’t be in place had not Congress drafted and then passed it. Magic!

Or, what am I missing? Does a President now sometimes ‘have to’ sign terrible laws that he thinks totally suck? Are there cases where he signs a law but his signing of that law ‘doesn’t count’ for the purpose of allocating responsibility for how the law got passed? Conversely, does the President draft laws himself and force Congress to pass them? When the President ‘proposes’ some law does that bind Congress?

Is the standard How A Bill Becomes A Law catechism another one of those things (like individual rights, checks & balances, property rights, and the social contract) that has been demolished/disproven by realist postmodern ‘who/whom’ sophisticates to the point that Only Naive UnOvereducated People Like Myself Still Believe In Them? It would appear so.

9 Comments so far
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It’s worse than that. The White House came up with the freaking sequestration to begin with, and President Obama went on national TV in late 2011 to shake his finger at Congress and warn that they weren’t getting out of the deal later even if they didn’t like the cuts.

Which is the storyline all over the MSM, right? You see it on the TV news every night, I’m sure.

But here I am being all non-nuanced and whatnot.

Comment by Texan99

Wikipedia should prove helpful about this. The president’s signature is not technically necessary for a bill to be passed, since congress can override a veto with a two-thirds majority. The president, then, ultimately has no power over legislation since legislation can be passed whether the president likes it or not. Of course, his title alone should indicate that his power is administrative in nature (i.e. he presides over the government and makes sure that the government does what congress authorizes it to do, within the limits of the constitution, at least in the ideal world where the constitution is actually in effect and politicians obey it).

That said, there is the sense that the president has a sort of negative legislative power. He can’t unilaterally bring legislation into being (at least if we pretend that the constitution is in effect and that politicians obey it), but he can unilaterally veto legislation if he so desires, though his veto is not actually a guarantee that the legislation won’t eventually be passed. He could refuse to enforce it, if he so desired, though, so that’s effectively the same as a veto.

Comment by Simon Grey

The point I’m getting at is that your civics teacher was wrong, or at least highly misleading. It is true that, from a factual standpoint, the vast majority of bills become laws by getting passed by congress and then signed by the president. However, there is no requirement for a bill to receive a presidential signature to become law. And, given how executive orders are considered legal/constitutional by those who get to decide such things, it’s now true that congress is not actually required to generate a bill for it to become law.

Comment by Simon Grey

And in regards to who is to blame for legislation, my opinion is that congress always has the greater blame for any and all legislation because congress is, per the constitution, the branch in charge of generating and passing legislation. If the president sings the bill into law, than he has some blame as well, but not as much as congress.

Comment by Simon Grey

“absent a veto-proof Congressional majority”

Comment by The Crimson Reach

Credit always belongs to “my side” and blame always belongs to “the other side.” Nothing really new, here.

What I find most ironic is that the big criticism about the “sequester” is that it’s a “dumb cut” that indiscriminately cuts everything by the same amount, thus implying that some government spending is actually “less important” than others. Of course, many of these critics are the same ones who previously didn’t want to cut anything because it was all too important.

Comment by joshua

In the sequester thing, yeah, it’s pretty obvious that it’s everybody’s “fault,” in that everybody was a moron to think it would work. But in general, I think it would clarify things if everything wasn’t a ridiculous omnibus bill that includes way too many unrelated issues. Break that crap up so nobody can claim their vote or signature is being held hostage.

Comment by Mark

I am positive that I like the sequester better than any alternative to it that will be adopted. This is very similar to my feelings on the fiscal cliff in December.

I’m happy to blame whomever the Smart People think is appropriate, so long as the Smart People can manage to do nothing effectively for another couple of weeks.

Comment by SkepticalCynical

So I had to google ‘sequestration’, and I find that it is basically a budget cut. I’m curious why we would “blame” anyone for it…sequester away, I say. Apparently it was Obama’s idea, so we now have Obama trying to cut spending and the Republicans trying to avoid it. I guess that makes sense.

Comment by Matt

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