President Bush has issued veto threats against 48 bills since Democrats took charge of Congress eight months ago, in stark contrast to the eight such threats all last year when Republicans controlled Capitol Hill.
Among the most prominent of his threats are Mr. Bush’s promise to veto nine of the 12 congressional spending bills, because they cost a combined $22 billion more than what he requested in the federal budget.
The showdown over spending with Democrats is part of the Bush administration’s strategy to shore up support among the GOP base and to help the Republican Party try to regain momentum after losing both houses of Congress last fall.
“Mr. Bush is trying to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility for Republicans. While congressional Republicans may desert him on other issues, limiting public spending has broad appeal,” said John Fortier, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Mary Matalin, a former adviser to the president, said “conservatives’ raison d’etre is lower spending.”
She noted that as the federal deficit continues to shrink and progress is reported from the president’s troop surge in Iraq, those things are “juxtaposed with the Democrats’ lack of progress on anything.”
Mr. Bush may have begun to reap benefits from his strategy this week, as his approval rating inched up for the first time in months.
Democrats, however, said the veto threats are a transparent political strategy that shows that the Bush administration is “hemorrhaging.”
“The old rule of politics applies here: Any time you’re trying to solidify your base means you’ve got bigger problems than anybody imagined,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Mr. Manley said that despite the administration’s arguments to the contrary, Mr. Bush’s objection to Democratic spending bills is an artificial conflict.
“In a trillion-dollar economy, [$22 billion] really doesn’t amount to much,” Mr. Manley said, adding that the differences “could be negotiated.”
Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s veto threats were “laughable coming from a president who spends $10 billion a month on the war in Iraq.”
Many Republicans wish Mr. Bush exercised his veto authority more often instead of allowing a Republican-controlled Congress to spend its way out of power.
“If only he had brought out the veto pen a few more times in the past,” said one aide to a ranking House Republican.
Mr. Bush used his veto power sparingly during his more than 6½ years in office. His first veto did not come until last summer, when he rejected a law to expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Mr. Bush vetoed two more bills this year, sending back a war-funding bill with a timeline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and again rejecting the funding of embryonic stem-cell research.
Since Grover Cleveland’s veto-heavy first term, which began in 1885 and resulted in 414 vetoes, the only president to have vetoed a single-digit number of bills was Warren G. Harding, who vetoed six bills in his 27 months in office before his 1923 death.
Presidents from George Washington to Bill Clinton have vetoed 2,550 bills, and only 106 of them were overridden by Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service. None of Mr. Bush’s three vetoes has been overridden. Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the record for most vetoes issued, rejecting 635 bills in his 12 years in office. Congress overrode nine of those vetoes.