Article 1: Section 7

Welcome back! This took quite a bit longer than expected, things have been busy. Sorry about that.

Section 7 is getting its own post, partly because big things are happening in it, and partly because I’m getting tired of digging into the last post to see where I am. Maybe I’ll just start doing one post per section.

As usual, I am not an expert or a legal scholar, or even particularly bright. No law student should be using this as research, and any who do deserve the grade they get for it.

Anyway, here we go! 

Section 7. All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

From the U.S. Constitution Online.

See what I mean? Big things here.

Interestingly, the very first sentence here has been interpreted in an unexpected way. The Supreme Court has declared that “revenue” in this context means taxes, and only taxes, so the Senate can, and does, originate bills for more indirect means of raising capital. Contrariwise, the House has also claimed the exclusive power to originate spending bills as well.

I suppose at some point in my life I’m going to have to read the Federalist Papers, if only to get a better idea what people were thinking (and arguing) about these policies. It seems that there’s a lot of stuff that’s not explicit in the Constitution that’s been agreed on and set into tradition based on them. Alexander Hamilton writes in Federalist 66, “The exclusive privilege of originating money bills will belong to the House of Representatives.” So clearly Hamilton thought the House should do all the money, both raising and spending. I wonder why the Constitution itself has the narrower term; what discussion must have led to that. Perhaps someday I’ll read more about it and find out.

The next paragraph is all the nuts and bolts of the life of a bill, and it’s hard for modern eyes to make sense of. Bills must pass through both houses of Congress, and then they go to the President. The President either signs it, which makes it law, returns it to Congress with an explanation of what’s wrong with it, or does nothing and after ten days (Not counting Sunday!) it becomes law.

I like that there’s a specific mention that it does not become law if the President can’t return it because Congress adjourned. They don’t get to cut the Commander in Chief out of the process by sending the bill in and then taking two weeks.

Anyway, if the bill gets sent back, Congress has three choices. They can let it die, they can change it and send it back to the President, or they can convince two-thirds of both houses to pass it again without change, which makes it law despite what the President thinks.

When a bill is sent back, that’s called a veto. If it doesn’t get sent back and also doesn’t become law because Congress has adjourned, that’s a pocket veto. The U.S. President’s veto power is actually kind of weak, as vetoes go, because it only takes two-thirds of Congress to override it and pass the bill into law as-is. Some governments have an absolute veto; and if whoever has that power uses it, the discussion is over and whatever bill or proposal was at stake is not happening. The technical term for what the President of the United States has is a “suspensive veto”, presumably because it can delay, or suspend, things a bit, but can’t really stop a law that Congress has its collective heart set on.

The pocket veto is an interesting concept to me, it’s spoken of like it’s a veto, but really it’s doing nothing and letting a bill die on its own. I wonder how much discussion Congress puts into timing things so that a pocket veto is or is not possible. It feels a little weird to me that Congress’s schedule changes what happens if the president ignores a bill, but little quirks like that are pretty much an unavoidable side-effect of the separation of powers.

A pocket veto cannot be overridden by Congress. So if Congress sends a bill to the President less than ten days before they adjourn, they are giving the President the power of an absolute veto. Several times in history a President has claimed to have used a pocket veto when the House had representatives available to receive a bill that was sent back, which is kind of a big deal based on this.

The final paragraph seems to be an uncharacteristically long-winded way of clarifying that all the stuff that has to go through both houses of Congress, has to go to the President, too. They may have just thought it would be good to reiterate and summarize the basic idea since the previous paragraph was pretty convoluted.

That’s about all I have to say on Section 7, so thank you for reading, feel free to comment, and I’ll see you next time!

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on September 10, 2016, in U.S. Constitution and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Seconds after posting this I realized I missed a huge thing about vetoes: The pocket veto cannot be overridden. That means that depending on the schedule of whichever house of Congress originated a bill, there IS a way for the President to exercise an absolute veto.

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