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Ingberman and Yao: Presidential commitment and the veto

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Ingberman and Yao. 1991. Presidential commitment and the veto. AJPS.


The authors argue that by committing to a particular policy stance (i.e. no new taxes) the president can use the veto to improve the utility he receives from the eventual policy outcome. The President is able to commit himself to a particular veto by publicizing his position, which creates a cost if he does not follow through with the veto, and forces the legislature to consider his policy preference. The President may also be able to improve his utility by vetoing a piece of legislation that is overridden by Congress, because to override the veto Congress may change its policy in a way that moves the final policy closer to the president's preferred policy.

Place in the literature:

Similar to other veto models (Romer and Rosenthal 1978, Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991) in that they are trying to determine the institutional sources of presidential power. They contrast themselves with Kernell's (1986) Going Public argument because in their view the purpose of a veto threat is not to change the preferences of congressmen, which is how they read Kernell, it is to make a costly commitment.

The Game

Model Overview

  1. Two players: Executive and Agenda setter (legislature)
  2. All information is common
  3. Override set (bills that command a supermajority) depends on reversion and legislative preferences
  4. Presidential commitments are costly
    • Commitment can be clear cut (no new taxes) or diffuse (no taxes more than 3.2%)
  5. Breaking a commitment is costly, following through has zero value

Order of game

  1. President makes a public commitment to a particular policy
  2. Agenda setter chooses a bill
  3. President chooses whether or not to veto
  4. If veto occurs, legislature decide to override or not.


  1. No commitment, president will only accept bills that improve his utility relative to the reversion point.
  2. No-Veto Equilibrium with clear cut commitment: with costly commitment, agenda setter chooses a bill that will ensure that the president will accept it and so no veto occurs
  3. Veto Override with Clear Cut Commitment: clear cut commitment forces agenda setter to propose a policy closer to the president's ideal point than would happen without the commitment. President still vetoes the bill, but the overridden bill is closer to his ideal point than the agenda setter would prefer in the absence of the veto and the need to garner a supermajority of support.
  4. Veto Override with diffuse commitment: If a diffuse commitment can force the agenda setter to choose a policy that provides greater or equal utility to the reversion point, after accounting for the cost of having a veto overridden, then the president will veto the bill and be overridden.

Research on similar subjects


Ingberman, Daniel (author)Yao, Dennis (author)American PoliticsLegislative-Executive Bargaining

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