- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

After five years and more than 1,000 bills signed into law, the Republican-led Congress has finally sent President Bush a bill he will veto, breaking a historic streak and marking the first failure of Republicans’ informal policy not to force the president’s hand.

Those on both sides of the debate said there was such strong support for the bill, which would overturn the president’s restrictions on funding for embryonic stem-cell research, that Republican leaders and Mr. Bush had little choice but to allow the bill to pass and let Mr. Bush veto it. That veto could come today, depending on how quickly the paperwork can be finished.

With the outcome certain, one Republican aide compared the process to “pulling the scab off” of a wound.

The White House said Mr. Bush is not looking for a fight, but making good on his word.

“He is fulfilling a promise that he has long made, and he’s keeping it,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow. “It’s tempting to say, ‘Aha! He’s picking this out for his first veto.’ There has not been, at least as far as I know, a comparable period within this administration where there has been an issue on which the president has made it absolutely clear he’s going to veto a bill.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Bush became the longest-serving president without a veto since Thomas Jefferson, and Republicans, who have controlled the House for all of Mr. Bush’s presidency and the Senate for all but 19 months, said that was because they had an informal policy of not forcing Mr. Bush into a veto situation.

“The [House] speaker’s goal — and my goal — is not to send a bill to the president that has to be vetoed,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, told The Washington Times in an interview last year.

Yesterday, House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, sounded reluctant to have had to force a veto.

“I have never believed it made any sense for a Republican Congress to send a bill to the president that he was going to veto or he could look good, we could look bad, or vice versa. I just never thought it made any sense,” he said.

Still, some Republicans saw an upside to the confrontation.

By actually using his veto, Mr. Bush is making sure he remains relevant in the legislative process, actually making it easier to veto bills in the future, said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, who supports Mr. Bush’s position.

“If he doesn’t veto this, he’ll never be able to veto anything, and he’ll lose all of his bargaining chips and firepower at the bargaining table,” said Mr. Kingston said.

The House is expected to uphold the veto later this week.

Even with his first veto looming, Mr. Bush’s record of agreement with Congress is impressive. He has signed more than 1,000 bills and has made 141 threats to veto bills, but he has never before had to follow through on one.

Where President Clinton had several high-profile ceremonies to sign veto statements, Mr. Snow said his boss does not plan a ceremony for this veto. Instead, he will sign into law today another bill on embryo research, which would ban initiating and then aborting a pregnancy for research purposes.

Those on both sides of the issue lamented that this was Mr. Bush’s first veto.

Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican and a strong supporter of the bill, said it was “unusually tragic” that this was the first bill. And Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and a bill opponent, said while he was happy Mr. Bush is using his veto in this issue, he wished Mr. Bush had vetoed a spending bill before this.

“We’ve got out-of-control spending,” Mr. Brownback said. “I wish we would have addressed it earlier.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he still hopes Mr. Bush won’t use his veto, and said the administration has gone back on threats before. He and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, wrote to Mr. Bush urging him to reconsider his position.

“If he vetoes this, he’s jerking the rug out from under millions who need help,” Mr. Reid told reporters.

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