- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

President Bush has again this week threatened to veto legislation, but in the first 18 months of his term he has yet to do so, prompting worries and hopes on Capitol Hill that he may be losing his authority.
Although it took President Clinton, who had a Congress led by his own party, almost two years to veto a bill, the three previous presidents vetoed an average of almost 10 bills a year during their terms.
The latest of Mr. Bush's half-dozen veto threats came over the Crusader artillery piece and an anti-terrorism bill. But yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly approved the terrorism insurance bill without a provision to curtail punitive damages, which Mr. Bush said was essential to avert his veto.
"We hear the veto threats, but they just don't mean anything anymore," said one Democratic congressional aide. "You can only take so many threats seriously before you just tune them out."
Said a Republican aide: "We'd like him veto something anything to show he's in charge."
But a Bush administration official said that, so far, a veto has just not been necessary.
"Why veto when the threat of a veto gets us what we want?" the official said. "There will be a veto someday, but we just haven't needed one yet."
But the president is ready and willing to veto legislation, the official said.
"If the Senate thinks for one minute that President Bush will threaten a veto and then sign the bill, they don't know this president. When he says something, he means it," he said.
One of the administration's threats in the past week concerns the $11 billion Crusader artillery system, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has made clear he wants killed.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld want to end the Crusader program, which would produce 40-ton guns that critics say would be too big and too unwieldy for an Army trying to emphasize quick strikes.
The House's $29 billion version of the anti-terror bill directs Mr. Rumsfeld to "take no action that would precipitously stop work" on the weapon system until Congress has voted on its fate.
That prompted White House budget chief Mitchell R. Daniels Jr. to fire off a letter to lawmakers notifying them that the language "is unacceptable, and the president's senior advisors would recommend that he veto any bill that included statutory restrictions limiting his ability to cancel this program."
Another Republican aide, who says Mr. Bush has so far played the veto game correctly, said this threat is a shot across the bow of House leaders.
"He told them he wants this program killed, and they are still messing around with it. This threat is meant to tell them he is the president and when he kills something, it stays dead," the aide said.
The aide said Mr. Bush's tactic has worked so far.
"The president has threatened to veto bills a half-dozen times or so, and with each, he won concessions that made the bill signable. It is the Democrats, not the president, who caved each time," the aide said.
But the veto threat which Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers said "will often have a silent and unperceived, though forcible, operation" is losing power, some analysts say.
"He's threatened to veto bills, but you have to actually veto something sometime to make those threats viable," said Gary Galemore, a policy analyst on presidential vetoes with Congressional Research Service. "At some point, common sense will tell you that Congress is not going to worry about his threats."
On the terrorism insurance bill, Mr. Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, which would help lessen the cost of insurance against future terror attacks, unless the bill protects insurance companies from punitive damages.
Yesterday, the Senate voted 84-14 to approve the bill without the president's provision.
Last night, Mr. Bush reiterated his stance: "The final terrorism insurance package must include reasonable litigation procedures so that Americans who are victimized by terrorism do not also fall victim to predatory lawsuits and punitive damages."
The one-paragraph statement does not include another threat to veto the bill.
The veto power, granted to the president by the Constitution, is a versatile tool that can be wielded as a hammer or a feather. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who vetoed the most bills in history 138 is said to have occasionally directed aides to find a bill any bill to kill to display his powerful role in the legislative process.
When presidents veto a bill, a two-thirds vote in both the House (290 votes) and the Senate (67 votes) is needed to override it. The past four presidents had only a combined 6 percent of their vetoes overriden.
Despite the unlikelihood of an override, Mr. Bush prefers the light touch and, in the case of the Daniels letter, lets an administration official voice the president's disapproval of legislation. The tactic worked in the debate over a patient's bill of rights, in which Mr. Bush threatened a veto and won a compromise.
Mr. Bush has had ample opportunity to veto bills. He so disliked the campaign finance bill that he signed it without a public ceremony at the Oval Office early in the morning before flying off to raise cash for candidates. Bill sponsors, including 2000 Republican primary rival John McCain, were notified by telephone instead of invited to the White House for an elaborate signing ceremony.
The former Texas governor also took issue with the massive $190 billion farm bill passed by Congress, but politics prohibited him from killing a bill that helps states that heavily favored him in the 2000 election.
His decision not to wield his veto power mirrors his term as Texas governor. His successor, Rick Perry, once vetoed 79 bills in one day, but Mr. Bush vetoed no more than 37 bills in a given Texas legislative session.


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