- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

President Bush should wield his veto power, something he has not yet done, said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. In a wide-ranging, pre-taped interview that aired yesterday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields," Mr. Hastert clearly suggested he wishes the president had vetoed some bills he had signed.

In the interview, show co-host Robert Novak said some members of the House Republican Caucus already have criticized Mr. Bush for failing to use his veto pen on the education bill, the campaign-finance reform bill and the farm subsidy bill.

"Do you think, sir, that 1½ years into the presidency, it's time for President Bush to use the veto pistol?" Mr. Novak asked Mr. Hastert.

"Yes, I urged him to veto the campaign-finance bill," said the speaker, who equated that measure with "Armageddon" and voted against it.

In his televised remarks, Mr. Hastert did not address the education bill, which he supported, but he strongly criticized the farm bill worked out in a House-Senate conference and which the president signed.

Most House Republican leaders voted against the farm bill, which expanded subsidies and lacked provisions to impose market standards on farmers. Mr. Hastert opposed the bill but did not vote on it in early May, when the bill passed 280 to 141.

Although Mr. Bush has threatened vetoes about a half-dozen times, he has yet to veto any legislation passed by Congress. The Washington Times reported last week that some on Capitol Hill feel the threats are ringing hollow.

On Tuesday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a terrorism insurance bill without a provision to exempt insurance firms from punitive damages. Mr. Bush has said he will veto the bill if it does not contain that provision.

Mr. Hastert said yesterday he does not believe the president would accept a bill that does not provide "limitations on liability." The terrorism insurance bill the House passed last fall contains such limitations. The rival bills will go now to a House-Senate conference.

Liability restrictions are "important," said Mr. Hastert. "The fact is, people are limited from building buildings or doing things today because they can't get insurance on their buildings. So how do you solve the problem? Well, the federal government has to be the reinsurance value, a body of last resort."

The purpose of terrorist insurance legislation is to protect U.S. jobs and the economy from future terrorist attacks. Under the proposed House legislation, if another terrorist attack occurred, private insurance firms would pay for damages up to a certain amount, and the federal government would guarantee against catastrophic losses.

"But we don't think that the trial lawyers should be able to come back over against the federal government with deep pockets and just be able to play havoc with this," Mr. Hastert said. "So we have drawn the line, and I think the president stands with us. And we won't pass a bill that has the deep pockets provision in it."

On another issue, Mr. Hastert was asked about a floor vote planned in the House this week on a Republican bill to provide prescription drug benefits for seniors. Two House committeees have approved the Republican drug plan, which would cost $350 billion over 10 years. The panels rejected a Democratic House plan that would cost at least twice as much as the Republican version. Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, has described the Republican plan as "mostly a series of payments to insurance companies."

Mr. Hastert said the Republican bill "covers about 90 percent of seniors" and that 44 percent of the "poorest people will be covered by this without any cost at all."

Also asked about a rival Senate Democratic prescription drug plan, Mr. Hastert said that bill would cost "almost $1 trillion" over 10 years. However, some reports have put its price tag at $425 billion over eight years.

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