If you’d like background on how vetoes, veto threats, and Statements of Administration Policy work, please see my background post:  Understanding vetoes, veto threats & SAPs.

The Administration issued a senior advisors veto threat on the Boehner bill on Tuesday. The SAP was only two sentences long:

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of the amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 627. If S. 627 is presented to the President, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.

This includes the standard “strongly oppose” language plus the veto threat. That’s fairly common.

Two things struck me about this threat:

  1. It was issued the morning after the President’s televised address to the Nation, in which he made no mention of a veto threat;
  2. The senior advisors veto threat suggests an opening.

I think the White House has been hoping that Speaker Boehner would be unable to rally House Republicans to pass his bill. Leader Reid would then have leverage to push his bill through the House and Senate or force a negotiated compromise.

In speaking broadly to the American public, the President and his team have emphasized his efforts to resolve this situation and avoid a cash crisis in August, his flexibility in negotiations, and his desire for balance and compromise. Yet in speaking to a DC audience his message has been aggressively negative against the Boehner bill. These messages are inconsistent and contribute to a belief common among Republicans on Capitol Hill that the President would sign the Boehner bill if it reached his desk. Would the President really veto a bill that reached his desk after being passed by the Democratic majority Senate?

Now that House Republicans appear on track to passing the Boehner bill, the Administration hopes that Senate Democrats will block that bill. I think Team Obama is afraid that rank-and-file Senate Democrats will buckle under the pressure and look for a way to vote for a House-passed Boehner bill, especially since they know it is based on an outline that Leader Reid supported privately last Sunday.

This is a textbook example of trying to make something come true by repeatedly asserting that it is true. Leader Reid and Sen. Schumer have been repeatedly asserting that Democrats are unified in opposition to the Boehner bill. They produced a letter, signed by all 53, opposing the Boehner bill. White House officials mimic their message, saying the Boehner bill is dead and must be changed (but they don’t say whether those changes need to be substantively significant). The senior advisors veto threat is an element of this strategy. They are working hard to build support for their view, in the Senate and in the press, that the Boehner bill is “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and that the likely outcome is Reid or a compromise between the two approaches.

They could convince most insiders of this if the President were to say “I will veto the Boehner bill if it reaches my desk.” They have chosen not to do so, keeping open the President’s option to sign it. Maintaining this flexibility for the President is undermining their other messaging and legislative efforts.

President Obama might veto the Boehner bill, and he might not. The President is relying on his not-quite-strong-enough veto threat and Senate Democrats to protect himself from having to make that difficult choice.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

– Hamlet, Act II Scene 3

(photo credit: Kaptain Kobold)