Hear Steve Inskeep and David Welna
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
He may have lost Congress and much public support, but even the least popular president still has a veto pen. And as soon as today, President Bush will reject a children's health insurance bill. He says too many middle class families would benefit from a program for the poor.
The president, who issued no vetoes while Republicans ran Congress, is now threatening to do it again and again. He says he could veto almost every spending bill designed to run the government for the next year.
NPR's David Welna explains why the children's health veto might be just the start.
DAVID WELNA: Most Republican governors back the so-called S-CHIP bill extending healthcare to millions of uninsured children; so do sizeable majorities in both the House and Senate.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid yesterday cast signing that bill as a moral obligation for President Bush.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I do not see how the president can sleep at night if he vetoes this bill.
WELNA: The president also faces a rebellion by Republican lawmakers who back the bill. Iowa GOP Senator Charles Grassley berated Mr. Bush on the Senate floor for having labeled the legislation irresponsible in his radio address last Saturday.
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): If you want to talk about the word responsible and whether Congress is responsible or not in this bill, I would say that anybody that wants to leave the program the way it is — and that's what's going to happen with a veto — that's an irresponsible position to take.
WELNA: If the president does veto the children's health care bill, House Democratic leaders say they'll wait until next week or later to try to override that veto. They're hoping by then to peel off some 15 Republicans to get the two-thirds majority they need for an override.
Texas A&M presidential scholar George Edwards says some who stick with the president could pay for it in next year's elections.
Dr. GEORGE EDWARDS (Texas A&M University): I think in a widely supported policy like the S-CHIP bill, that the risks are substantial for Republicans. It's difficult to take the case to the voters on something specific like that when we're talking about health care for children and explain the complex rationale for opposition.
WELNA: Asked why the president has also issued veto threats against almost all the spending bills this year, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino insisted the president has a role to play in the legislative debate.
Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Press Secretary): One of the things the president can do is say, I'm not going to sign a bill that comes to me with extraneous spending. I'm not going to sign a bill that has policies in it that should not be a part of the United States policy. And so I would hope that we wouldn't have to do veto threats, but you know, I think that the Democrats have shown that these are the types of legislative angles that they're going to take, and that's why the president has to send some veto threats up.
WELNA: At issue is the fact that added together the spending bills exceed the president's own budget by some $23 billion.
But Dan Mitchell of the libertarian Cato Institute says that's paltry compared to the amount of excess spending Mr. Bush signed during Republicans' control of Congress.
Dr. DAN MITCHELL (Cato Institute): There certainly does seem to be a legitimate argument that the president only objects to new spending when Democrats are doing it because he certainly wasn't objecting when Republicans controlled Congress and they did it. And of course his administration was proposing a lot of the new spending.
WELNA: Yesterday the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said if there's a spending problem, it's the White House asking for nearly $200 billion in war funding this year.
This was Democrat David Obey's proposal.
Representative DAVE OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): If the president is really concerned about stopping red ink, we are prepared to introduce legislation that will provide for a war surtax for that portion of the - of military costs related to our military action in Iraq.
WELNA: If you don't like that cost, Obey added, then shut down the war. But most Republicans derided the idea of a war surtax.