- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2003

The House and Senate each have passed measures in the last two weeks in spite of veto threats from President Bush, showing a willingness among Republicans to defy the president on some issues.

Democrats said the votes represent a breakdown in Republican discipline as members no longer fear opposing a president declining in popularity, particularly on the domestic front.

“I think there’s a growing lack of confidence in this administration’s ability to lead; ability in Iraq, ability in the economy, ability on fiscal policy,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

“That’s becoming more and more evident with the Republicans’ independence and their willingness to part company with this administration on key questions.”



But Republicans said there’s no broad message.

“I don’t think there’s any pattern here. It depends on the issue,” said Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and one of those who led the fight against proposed new media-ownership rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission. “It’s going to happen every now and then.”

“It depends on the issue and how it’s worked,” Mr. Lott said. “Every now and then, the troops are going to show a little independence from their leaders or from the party. It’s not lock step.”

The House passed an amendment Sept. 10 that loosens the restrictions on traveling to Cuba, while the Senate passed a bill that overturns Labor Department rules that would have allowed businesses to redesignate workers as salaried employees, making them ineligible for overtime pay.

Then, this past week, the Senate passed a “congressional veto” resolution overturning the FCC’s new rules that allow for greater media-ownership consolidation.

Each of the three measures needs approval from the other chamber, so none has reached the president’s desk yet, but in each case, the bills would not have passed if Republicans had not voted against their party leader’s wishes.

Two Republicans — Sens. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island — voted against the president on both Senate votes, but spokesmen for both said their votes didn’t signal a rebellion.

“It really is individual issues that have popped up at this point,” said Ted McEnroe, press secretary for Mrs. Snowe.

Mr. Bush has never exercised his veto, though he has issued a number of threats — particularly this year, when he has threatened to veto 15 different pieces of legislation. In 2002, Mr. Bush threatened vetoes on seven bills, while in 2001 he threatened vetoes on nine.

The Office of Management and Budget, which issues the statements that usually contain the veto threats, does not have a current scorecard for how successful the threats have been in forcing Congress to alter legislation.

But Republicans in Congress said that in general, the things on which Mr. Bush has issued veto threats haven’t made it to his desk — usually because they disappear in the conference committee, when the two houses hammer out differences.

Lawmakers say that’s where the president has the most influence on legislative details.

The Cuba travel ban is a good example of that. The House passed legislation changing the ban last year, but the provision was dropped by the time the final omnibus spending bill passed early this year.

One Republican Senate aide said it’s also not uncommon for senators to vote for something in spite of a veto threat because they can get credit for the vote back home, while knowing it won’t make it into the final legislation.

“There are agreements made. People are assured things will not remain through the conference agreement,” the aide said.

Still, some senators said if they can get the FCC bill to the president, he will sign it.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, who led the FCC effort with Mr. Lott, said he doesn’t think Mr. Bush would choose the FCC rules to be his first veto.

“I believe that if this can be considered in the House, it will pass the House of Representatives. And second, if it gets to the president’s desk, I believe [White House adviser Karl] Rove and others would believe that this is not something that should represent the president’s first veto,” he said.

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