The 4-Letter Word That Can Boost Obama's 2012 Chances: V-E-T-O

Can the president win re-election by pledging to block Republicans?

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Can the veto help Barack Obama win re-election? If Republicans were to retain the House, retake the Senate and regain the presidency, the nation would again face a one-party government -- as it has many times in the past, including in 2009. As well, a "conservative" Supreme Court is not likely to impose constitutional constraints on "conservative" congressional or executive initiatives.

One way to block future Republican legislation repealing or altering current law is, of course, the filibuster (which can only be ended by 60 Senate votes). A second and more powerful check is through a presidential veto, which can only be over-ridden by a two-thirds vote in each house (e.g. 67 Senate votes).

At the moment, Republicans appear highly likely to retain control of the House, with 214 seats safe or leaning Republican (compared to 172 seats safe or leaning Democratic) and the GOP needing only 4 of 49 current toss-ups for a controlling majority, according to the current Real Clear Politics analysis.

So, too, Republicans are poised to retake the Senate, overturning the current Democratic/Independent majority of 53-47. Again, according to Real Clear Politics, the Republicans have 47 safe, likely, or GOP-leaning seats and the Democrats 45, with eight toss-ups. If the Republicans win four of the toss-ups, they control the Senate. As University of Virginia political scientist, Larry Sabato, said last month, it "appears that the Senate is the Republicans' to lose."  Depending on the size of any Republican majority, and the number of conservative Democrats, the GOP could have the 60 votes necessary for cloture to end a filibuster.

Virtually all observers expect a close presidential election. And why not?

Unemployment, as everyone knows, is over 9 percent and, per most economists, is not likely to improve much, if at all, before November, 2012. According to a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports, the president has a 45 percent approval rating and a 54 disapproval rating. Another recent Rasmussen poll shows that 15 percent of Americans think the nation is on the right track and 78 percent believe it is on the wrong track. The misery index (unemployment plus latest reported consumer price index) is 13, the highest it has been in nearly 20 years. And, although he bests current individual Republican candidates in head-to-head polls, the president loses as often as he wins in recent generic "Republican" v. Obama polls.

Obviously, to win re-election President Obama must woo back independent voters who currently dislike him. But he must also get significant turn-out, as he did in 2008, from blocs of voters who won't vote Republican but are disaffected, disappointed or disinterested and may stay home -- e.g. large numbers of young, black, Hispanic and women voters. In 2008, 132.6 million Americans voted in federal elections (57 percent of the voting age population). In 2010, 90.6 million Americans voted (37.8 percent of the voting age population) and created a large GOP House majority, a typical large drop-off from a presidential to a purely congressional election year (in this case a decline of 40 million voters). Independent voters and turn-out in a handful of key states are thus essential for the president.

Can the prospect of a presidential veto in Barack Obama's hands after the 2012 election -- when both houses of Congress could well be Republican -- affect those key voters?

Presented by

Ben W. Heineman Jr.

Ben Heineman Jr. is is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and at the Harvard Law School's Program on Corporate Governance. He is the author of High Performance With High Integrity.

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