First Bush Veto on Horizon?

Not since the early years of the republic has a president been in office as long as President George W. Bush without vetoing even one bill. But this remarkable record of collaboration between the branches may be at its end with the issue of stem cell research winning favor in Congress.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush is on the verge of doing something that he's never done before. He is about to veto a piece of legislation passed by the US Congress. For more than four years, the Bush White House has prided itself on avoiding confrontations that would force a presidential veto. For the most part, the president has gotten what he wanted from Congress. But now, the controversial issue of stem cell research seems likely to break the streak. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Who was the last president to go this long without issuing a veto? That was Thomas Jefferson nearly 200 years ago. Normally, the veto is among the most important tools of the presidency, the power to strike down legislation you don't like with the stroke of a pen, forcing Congress to come back with a two-thirds majority to override.

President BILL CLINTON: I will veto this bill, because it is wrong for Medicare, wrong for Social Security, wrong for...

President RONALD REAGAN: The bill's a textbook example of special-interest, pork-barrel politics at work, and I have no choice but to veto it.

President GERALD FORD: Fifty-five times, I've vetoed extravagant and unwise legislation.

GONYEA: That last voice is Gerald Ford's. Ford was a heavy user of the veto, 66 in just 30 months in office. Bill Clinton had 38 over two terms. Ronald Reagan's total was 78. President George W. Bush is still at zero. Among those intrigued by this president's vetoless first term is John Samples of the Cato Institute.

Mr. JOHN SAMPLES (Cato Institute): You do have to go back to the beginning of the republic, really, to find presidents not issuing vetoes, for the most part. And as recently as Harry Truman, the president issued 250 vetoes during his term.

(Soundbite of vintage audiotape)

President HARRY TRUMAN: I sent the Congress a message, vetoing the Taft-Hartley labor bill. I vetoed this bill because I am convinced it is a bad bill. It is bad for labor...

GONYEA: That's one Truman lost, by the way. Taft-Hartley became law after a congressional override in a Republican House and Senate. Samples says Mr. Bush has had a Congress largely controlled by his party, but that the White House has also made its preferences clear and been active in shaping legislation. The president's high post-9/11 approval ratings also made it less likely Congress would challenge him. And it mattered that Republicans had one big overriding goal during this president's firs term: making sure the president got a second term.

But John Samples says there's something else important going on. Several Democratic presidents have had party control of the Congress, yet still issued lots of vetoes. Why not President Bush? Samples says because there's less diversity within the parties in Congress these days.

Mr. SAMPLES: This Republican Congress, I think, is much more--is more similar to the president in both conservatism, and the party itself has probably fewer people who are moderates. So in a sense, you don't end up getting legislation that differs all that much from what President Bush wants.

GONYEA: When differences have arisen, the administration has often threatened to use the veto, a tactic that has usually led to compromise. But the president's latest threat is about stem cell legislation. The Republican-controlled House has sent to the Senate a bill that would allow federal funding for research on embryos that are left over from fertility procedures. The president, in 2001, decided to allow such research only on existing stem cell lines. This week, the president said no taxpayer's money should be used, quote, "to destroy life."

President GEORGE W. BUSH: That's the issue, and the Congress has made its position clear, and I've made my position clear. And I will be vetoing the bill they send to me if it were to pass the United States Senate.

GONYEA: Republican Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware argues that the potential for medical advances should allow for research using embryos that would otherwise be discarded. So that first veto may be near, and whether Congress votes to override it or not, the relationship between the White House and the Hill will have changed. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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