The Road To Presidential Veto

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

This year’s debate over transportation spending may be decided by presidential veto — or by Congress’s override of the veto threatened by President Bush. If such a battle over roads ensues, it will not be the first. Andrew Jackson vetoed the Maysville Road bill in 1830, and he killed it for reasons similar to those underlying opposition to the current measure: concerns about federal spending in general and federal aid for “local” infrastructure projects in particular.

This year’s highway bill includes earmarks for thousands of such projects — and has raised complaints about the costs. But Jackson’s veto remains one of the most noteworthy in U.S. history, not only because it strengthened presidential prerogative but also because it deterred lawmakers from funneling money back to their states. “It stopped ‘internal improvements’ for quite some time,” said historian Robert V. Remini, who has authored numerous books on Andrew Jackson.

The conflict over the Maysville Road pitted the president and two future presidents, Martin Van Buren and James Polk, against a wannabe president, Henry Clay, and it was rooted in the nation’s long-standing division over whether Congress possessed the authority to fund roads, canals, and other internal improvements. Many leaders of the early Republic, including Presidents James Madison and James Monroe, argued that the Constitution reserved that power to the states. But Clay, whose political career included stints in the House and Senate, advocated such expenditures as part of his “American System” for promoting national progress and unity.

Clay was not in Congress when the Maysville Road bill was debated, but his ally and fellow Kentuckian, Robert Letcher, wrote the House measure. The road was to start at Maysville, Ky., along the Ohio River and run south to Lexington. The legislation authorized spending $150,000 to buy stock in the company that was building the road.

When the House began debate in April 1830, Letcher described the measure as “some minor bill that would occupy but little time.” He characterized the road as “a national work,” because it was one piece of a larger road plan designed to run from Zanesville, Ohio, to Florence, Ala. He also argued that the road would “more than compensate” the government for its investment by reducing the cost of transporting mail through Kentucky.

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The Power Of The Blog

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Last year was a big one for bloggers on the political front. They breathed life into the presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, now the chairman of the Democratic Party; they earned credentials to cover the political conventions; and they helped Republican John Thune of South Dakota topple the Goliath that was Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle.

The blog days of Campaign 2004 are over now, but this year the technology that transformed the political scene is taking root in the wonky world of Washington. Web logs are quickly becoming a more visible and influential policy weapon.

The high-profile debate over Social Security is a good example. The topic already has generated thousands of blog postings.

The conservative Club for Growth, led by former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., started a blog on Social Security in January. SocialSecurityChoice.org unabashedly claims its mission as promoting President Bush’s “ownership society,” in particular personal retirement accounts.

By contrast, ThereIsNoCrisis.com challenges the notion that Social Security faces any “crisis.” The blog is run by BlogPac, which bills itself as “a group of bloggers not content to simply write words or read them, but eager to take action on the pressing issues of our day.”

The retirement group AARP also has a Social Security blog. And a fourth blog, Talking Points Memo, has dedicated much of its space to challenging the Bush administration’s stance on Social Security over the past several months. The blog ranks Democrats who may be swing votes in the debate as part of “The Fainthearted Faction” and Republicans as members of “The Conscience Caucus.”

That’s four blogs focused on one issue — two by established advocacy groups and two by Internet upstarts who have seen and seized the power of the blog.

The blogswarm that stung the Federal Election Commission (FEC) earlier this year is even more telling of blogs’ emerging influence in Washington.

When one commissioner hinted in a News.com interview that the agency might regulate blogs under campaign-finance law, bloggers of all political persuasions rallied against the FEC. The commission blinked, proposing a much narrower set of rules than the draft suggested by the FEC’s general counsel — a draft that was made public by a blogger.
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