Advancing a Free Society

Understanding vetoes, veto threats & SAPs

Friday, July 29, 2011

In this background post, I explain how vetoes and veto threats work and what a SAP is. It is a companion post to one on the current situation: Senior advisors veto threat on the Boehner bill.

Before we get to veto threats, we need to understand what a SAP is.

SAP: Statement of Administration Policy

A Statement of Administration Policy, or SAP, is a formal document produced by the Office of Management and Budget that expresses the Administration’s official views on a bill.

  • A SAP can be a few sentences or several pages long.
  • A SAP applies to a particular version of a particular bill.
  • A SAP applies to a bill being considered on the floor of the House or Senate. When the Administration provide formal written input on a bill earlier in the process (like when it’s in committee), that input usually takes the form of a letter from a senior Administration official (e..g, a Cabinet secretary or senior White House aide) to the relevant Committee chairman.
  • OMB releases the SAP just before the bill comes to the House or Senate floor.
  • A SAP is unsigned and written “to the world,” sort of like a press release. There is no “From:” or “To:” field in a SAP.
  • A letter, for example from the Assistant Secretary of Tax Policy to the House Ways & Means Committee Chairman, would probably only apply to a portion on the bill (in this case, the tax part). While such a letter would be “cleared” through OMB and therefore represent the whole Administration’s views, it is formally treated as the views of the particular official who sends it. In contrast, the SAP always formally represents the entire Administration’s views, on the entire bill, and the SAP speaks to the substance of the entire bill, not just one part.
  • SAPs emphasize the President’s top policy priorities, but they also get into levels of detail in which a President would almost never directly engage. The Administration often uses a SAP to communicate precise or nuanced positions on complex policy issues in a bill.

A SAP, especially a long and detailed one on a big bill, can be the result of discussions and debates among 5-30ish senior officials in the White House, OMB, and Cabinet agencies. Usually OMB and White House policy staff do the initial draft. OMB Legislative Affairs staff take comments from throughout the Administration and play an honest broker role to resolve them as best they can. White House policy council staff sometimes help this process when the differences of opinion among Administration officials are important enough to be debated in the West Wing. This can be a painful process for those involved, because the letter ends up signaling not just the Administration’s substantive views, but what’s important and what’s less so. Individual Administration officials may care only about a portion of a bill, and they will often argue forcefully that their views on a part of a bill should be the Administration’s top priority in a SAP.

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