WASHINGTON – The president with the fewest vetoes in more than a century, George W. Bush 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 whistle-blowers, 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 coming week would face a veto because it contains Iraq withdrawal language.
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 2006, 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, Bush issued the only veto of his presidency, killing a bill on the use of federal money for 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 veto-less 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 H.W. Bush 44 in his four-year term and Ronald Reagan 78 in his two terms.
George W. Bush's low numbers reflect his cooperative relationship with the Republicans who ran Congress during most of his first six years. Democrats see it somewhat differently.
"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, D-Ill., 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 GOP opposition to Bush's proposals on overhauling immigration.
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 actually 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.
Others measures with a better chance of reaching his desk are a revived stem cell proposal, passed by the House in its first week this year, and different versions of bills that would put in place recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. The White House objects to them because each would give airport screeners limited bargaining rights.
Labor rights also are another source of a veto threat.
The White House says a House-passed bill providing loans to states for water projects is unacceptable because it would require that construction workers on the projects get prevailing local wages that often coincide with union scales.