Some good ideas have been discussed for more than a hundred years and yet remain unused, to wit …
THE VETO POWER.
The N. Y. Herald of Oct. 31st, has a very excellent article on the extension of the veto power. Although this extraordinary power given to the President for good purposes has sometimes been abused, and is liable again to be abused, there are some good arguments in favor of its further extension. These arguments are lucidly set forth by the Herald, from which we make some extracts:
“The clause of the constitution conferring the veto power on the President would seem to limit its exercise to a bill as an entirety. That is, he must either approve a bill as a whole, or disapprove of it as a whole, he cannot endorse a bill as “approved, with the exception of such and such sections;” leaving Congress to overrule or not, as the case may be, his veto to the disapproved sections. Such, at least, is the interpretation practically given to the veto clause of the constitution; and the consequence is that many a corrupt and profligate piece of legislation is tolerated when connected with another measure to which no objection lies, because the President cannot veto the bad without also vetoing the good.
At the time of the passage of the constitution, and, indeed, until within a recent period, the literal construction of the clause conferring the veto power answered the purpose designed. A bill used to be confined to a single specific object. No matter of general legislation was allowed in an appropriation bill, nor were appropriations permitted to be made for works not authorized by an existing law. Therefore there was no difficulty about approving or disapproving a measure. But of late years, since log-rolling and corruption have come in vogue in Congress, the habit has grown up of dovetailing a lot of entirely distinct measures into the one bill, of introducing general legislation into the appropriation bills, and of making appropriations for works not authorized by any existing law. Thus, for instance, it was attempted last Congress to hitch on the great swindling Pacific Railroad bill to a bill making some small donations of land for railroad purposes to another State ; and if that bill had ever been finally passed, the President would have had either to veto the original measure, to which there was no objection whatever, or else to let the grand Pacific monstrosity escape. Then, again, the army appropriation bill came within an ace of being lost, through the factious Black Republican majority in the House insisting on inserting in it a proviso to the effect that no part of the army should be employed in enforcing the laws in Kansas. Several other general appropriation bills were also endangered by the attempts to engraft upon them provisions declaring the Territorial laws of Kansas null and void. And finally, the several appropriation bills last session were laden down to the amount, probably, of fifteen or twenty millions of dollars, with items for the expenditure of which there was no law and no necessity.
Now, as the veto power is at present interpreted, there is no way of guarding against unwise, corrupt or fraudulent legislation. The President must approve the bill, no matter how infamous some of its distinct provisions may be, or he must veto it, no matter how absolutely necessary others may be. Thus, with the appropriation bills containing the provisions with reference to Kansas, he would have had either to allow these provisions to be-, come law or permit the wheels of government to be stopped for want of appropriations. And, in fact, we have seen the country put to the expense of an extra session of Congress in 1856, through this very difficulty, and because the right of the President to strike an improper proviso out of the army act was not recognised or practised.
Now, the only fair, effectual and legitimate way to guard against these abuses of legislation, is to give a liberal and natural interpretation to the words of the constitution. That instrument confers on the President the power of vetoing bills which he does not approve. The obvious meaning of this is, that he shall have power to veto all distinct measures of legislation which he does not approve; and that when two, or ten, or twenty or a hundred such independent and distinct measures are comprised within one huge omnibus bill, he shall have the right of vetoing such of them as he disapproves, and of giving effect to the bill as regards all the rest. There can he no sound practical objection to that. It is the fair and legitimate way of restraining profligate legislation. Both houses, on the return of such a bill, can vote separately on the disapproved portions, and overrule the veto in regard to such as there may be the constitutional majority in favor of. No one can fail to see the necessity for such an interpretation of the veto clause as we advocate. If the Attorney General be of opinion that this desirable construction cannot be put upon the veto clause in the constitution, a law should be immediately passed to explain or amend it in that sense. That done, and with such a man as Mr. Buchanan in the Presidential chair, the corrupt machinations of the Mattesons, Sewards and Weeds will become comparatively harmless.”