- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007


President Bush has issued the fewest vetoes of any president in more than a century, but he is poised to make up for lost time as congressional Democrats move legislation the White House says is unacceptable.

In the past week alone, the White House threatened to veto House bills dealing with presidential records and protection for whistleblowers and a defeated Senate bill that would have set a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. The White House also warned that a war-spending bill the House will take up this week would face a veto because it contains provisions intended to force a withdrawal from Iraq.

Since Democrats took over Congress in January, the White House has put out 22 position papers on major bills before Congress; of these, nine contain veto threats aimed at the bills or provisions in them.

In all of last year, when Republicans ran Capitol Hill, the White House issued 61 such policy statements, with only seven veto threats. Several were reminders not to exceed or tamper with spending ceilings; two were aimed at spending bills that had wording, later removed, that would have eased U.S. penalties against Cuba.

In July, Mr. Bush issued the only veto of his presidency, killing a bill that would have used federal money for embryonic-stem-cell research. The veto stuck when the House failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to override it.

That is the cleanest record since the short, vetoless presidency of James A. Garfield. He was shot four months after he took office in 1881 and died several months later. By comparison, Bill Clinton vetoed 37 bills over two terms, George Bush cast 44 vetoes in his four-year term and Ronald Reagan 78 in his two terms.

The current president’s low numbers reflect his cooperative relationship with the Republicans who ran Congress for most of his first six years.

“My view is that the country paid a huge price for a Congress that acted like it was not an equal branch of government,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Caucus. “They acted like Play-Doh in his hands.”

Under Democrats, “you’re going to get veto threats,” he said. “It’s a change in culture, it’s a change in attitude.”

Ed Patru, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said he rejected “the premise that Republicans were anything less than independent.” He cited House Republicans torpedoing Mr. Bush’s immigration proposals for a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

Mr. Patru said Democrats were responsible for the rise in veto threats because of their own internal differences and their moving ahead on what he called bad policy, such as the proposals to pull out of Iraq. “Ultimately they are advancing bad legislation,” he said.

It remains to be seen how many veto opportunities the president will have. House bills passed under a veto cloud may die in the Senate, where minority Republicans can exercise filibuster powers. Examples include a bill that would direct the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over Medicare drug prices and a measure that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

Other measures with a better chance of reaching his desk are another proposal to fund embryo-destroying research, passed by the House in its first week this year, and different versions of bills that would put in place recommendations of the September 11 commission. The White House objects to them because each would give airport screeners limited bargaining rights.

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