A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Don’t Veto the Truth

Romney leaves out a heap of information when discussing his love of vetoes.


Summary

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made fiscal policy discipline a staple of his presidential campaign. He has run an ad called “I Like Vetoes” roughly 1,000 times, making it the single most expensive ad so far in the 2008 presidential campaign. In the ad Romney states that he “vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations as governor.” What he neglects to mention is that more than 700 of his vetoes were overturned by the Massachusetts Legislature.

We also wonder about Romney’s claim that Massachusetts is “the most liberal state in the country” and “the toughest place” for a Republican. We’ve also heard the same claim made for Vermont, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Analysis

Mitt Romney’s “vetoes” ad has run nearly 1,000 times, mostly in Iowa and New Hampshire, since it first appeared April 4. Since then Romney has devoted more than a third of his entire TV ad budget to this single ad, spending an estimated $1.6 million on it, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a unit of TNS Media Intelligence. That’s by far the most spent for any single ad by a candidate or group in the 2008 presidential race so far.

In the ad, Romney says, “I know how to veto. I like vetoes.” Indeed, there’s little doubt that Romney likes vetoes. He issued more than 800 budgetary vetoes during his four-year tenure. But, he fails to mention that the vast majority of his vetoes were for naught.

Romney Ad: ‘I Like Vetoes’

Romney: If I’m elected president, I’m going to cap non-defense discretionary spending at inflation minus 1 percent. That would save $300 billion in 10 years. And if Congress sends me a budget that exceeds that cap, I will veto that budget. And I know how to veto. I like vetoes. I’ve vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations as governor. And frankly, I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington! I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.

Vetoes Turned Back

Boston Herald columnist Wayne Woodlief reported on this in a June 22 article headlined “False Advertising Can’t Sell Romney.” FactCheck.org independently obtained a complete list of veto overrides covering all four of Romney’s budgets. The overrides, it turns out, greatly outnumber the sustained vetoes.

The overrides for fiscal years 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 total 707 of the more than 800 line-item vetoes that Romney issued. So while Romney did indeed veto “hundreds of spending appropriations,” as he says in the ad, he had little to show for them.

The fruitless vetoes include some that Romney makes a point of boasting about. On June 15, Romney gave a speech at the National Right to Life Convention Forum where he spoke at length about his vetoes of “pro-choice legislation.” He vetoed a bill  allowing pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill without a prescription and another streamlining the process for scientists conducting embryonic stem-cell research. Both vetoes, however, were overturned.

Romney also vetoed a minimum wage increase, and a bill that legalized over-the-counter sales of hypodermic needles. The Legislature overrode both vetoes.

It’s worth noting the General Court, Massachusetts’ legislative body, was overwhelmingly Democratic while Romney was governor. Even now, the House consists of 141 Democrats and only 19 Republicans, while the Senate has 34 Democrats, five Republicans and one vacant seat. But in some cases even the Republicans went against Romney. His minimum wage veto was overridden unanimously, for example. In that instance the House voted against him 152 to 0, and minutes later the Senate voted 38 to 0.

What Kind of Vetoes?

In the ad, Romney says, “Frankly, I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington!” If elected, however, he will find that his old job gave him more tools than the presidency. In Massachusetts, the governor can eliminate, reduce or place contingencies on specific line-item provisions in the budget. The so-called line-item veto allows a governor to turn down a single, particular spending measure rather than having to veto an entire bill. This is the power Romney used in his hundreds of budgetary vetoes. The president, however, does not have this authority.

There have been several attempts to give the president line-item veto power over the past two decades. President Clinton was granted this authority by Congress in 1996, but two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had overstepped its bounds and rescinded the president’s line-item power. Efforts to grant a line-item veto in a form that might pass muster with the Court continue, but so far they have come to nothing.

Thompson, Too

Romney is not the only former governor and presidential candidate who plays up his veto record while leaving out important details. In the June 5 Republican debate, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson stated that “there isn’t a candidate on either side of the aisle that has had as many vetoes as I have.” It is certainly true that no other candidate has as many vetoes, but Thompson’s statement also needs clarification.

Thompson issued approximately 1,900 vetoes during his tenure, but 1,552 were partial vetoes. Essentially a line-item veto, the Wisconsin partial veto allows the governor to not only remove line-item expenditures, but to rewrite funding levels as well. Again, this is a power that Thompson would not be able to wield in the Oval Office.

Also, since Wisconsin is one of 14 states without gubernatorial term limits, Thompson was able to serve for 14 years in that post – six years longer than any of the other governors running for president could have held the office.

Romney Ad: ‘Tested, Proven’

Announcer: In the most liberal state in the country one Republican stood up and cut spending instead of raising taxes; he enforced immigration laws, stood up for traditional marriage and the sanctity of human life.

Romney: This isn’t the time for us to shrink from conservative principles. It’s a time for us to stand in strength. Strong military, strong economy, strong families.

Announcer: In the toughest place, Mitt Romney’s done the toughest things.

Romney: I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.

Romney’s Revisions Take Two

In another ad that has been running for the past month, Romney calls Massachusetts “the most liberal state” in the U.S., and “the toughest place” for a Republican governor. That may be his judgment, but surely there are a few other nominees for the “most liberal” award.

True, Massachusetts has Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, and in 2004 it became the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. In the 1972 presidential election, it was the only state (not counting the District of Columbia) won by Democratic nominee George McGovern.

But consider Vermont, the home of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described “independent democratic socialist,” and of Howard Dean, former governor of the state, 2004 presidential candidate and current head of the Democratic Party nationally. Social activist ice cream czars Ben & Jerry also are based there.

Then there’s Rhode Island, which cast a greater share of its votes – 61 percent – for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000 than any other state. And some might well grant the distinction to New Jersey, which has a higher personal income tax than Massachusetts, as well as two Democratic senators, Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez.

Now there’s something to mull over while lying on the beach or sitting in front of a computer with your favorite blog.

Media

Watch Romney Ad: “I Like Vetoes”

Watch Romney Ad: “Tested, Proven”

Sources

Wangsness, Lisa, and Cristina Silver. “Minimum wage hike veto rejected.” Boston Globe. 1 Aug. 2006.

Nangle, Richard. “Lawmakers Override Needle Veto.” Worcester Telegram and Gazette. 24 July 2006.

Woodlief, Wayne. “False advertising can’t sell Romney: Voters shopping for core values.” Boston Herald. 22 June 2007.

Supreme Court Deletes Line-Item Veto.” CNN.com. 25 June 1998.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Senate Clerk. Massachusetts General Court. Massachusetts Legislative History.

Greenberger, Scott. “Lawmakers override governor’s contraception veto.” Boston Globe. 16 Sept. 2005.

Henry, Tom. “Massachusetts lawmakers override Romney veto of stem cell bill.” Jurist Legal News and Research. 31 May 2005.

National Governors Association. “Constitutional and Statutory Provisions for Number of Consecutive Terms of Elected State Officials.”

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The 183rd General Court. FY04–Budget Overrides.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Massachusetts General Court. House & Senate Actions on the Governor’s Vetoes.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The 184th General Court of Massachusetts. Legislative Action on Budget Vetoes.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Massachusetts General Court. Veto Overrides.

CNN Political Ticker AM” CNN.com. 26 Apr. 2007.

Walters, Steven. “Doyle says review will not affect vetoes; Attorney general’s opinion.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 6 Aug. 2005