LIANE HANSEN, Host:
David, this week, we saw something completely different. Congressional Republicans turned on their own president. It was on the bill that authorized $23-billion worth of water projects. Explain why did so many of them vote to override the president's veto.
DAVID WELNA: So I think this lame duck president vetoed the bill in his own drive to be remembered as a fiscal conservative, but his fellow Republicans overrode that veto, thinking more about next year's elections.
HANSEN: So now that this veto override taboo for Republicans has been broken, how likely do you think is it that more presidential vetoes will be overturned?
WELNA: Here's the Senate's number two Democrat Dick Durbin.
RICHARD DURBIN: And the president, who is arguing that we can't afford 20 or 25 billion for America, has asked us for $196 billion for Iraq - $196 billion for Iraq, but we can't afford $20 billion for America? I don't follow it.
HANSEN: David Welna, that sounds awfully like a guns or butter argument with the president willing to allow deficit spending on the war and the Democrats wiling to go in the hole to fund programs at home.
WELNA: That's right. Democrats would like the debate to be about a war that's been very costly, politically for Republicans. But, in fact, Republicans, with the help of General David Petraeus, who came here in September and defended the troop surge in Iraq quite effectively, have actually managed to all but shut down the war debate. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told me the other day that Democrats are basically betting on the wrong horse if they think Iraq is going to be the big election-year issue.
MITCH MCCONNELL: I think they're setting themselves up to beat the issue in next year's election. I mean, their hope is that next year's election is going to be about George Bush and the war. Two things wrong with that strategy: Number one, Bush is leaving. Number two, the war is winding down. Next year's election is going about this Congress and what it failed to do when it had an opportunity to.
HANSEN: David Welna, this focus on spending by the Republicans, isn't this a risky strategy for them?
WELNA: Well, it likely pleases their base of small government conservatives, but a lot of these federal programs that Democrats want more money for are really quite popular. I think the battle this fall over the expansion of low- income children's health insurance, SCHIP, and the president's veto of it will likely be used against a lot of Republicans who backed up his veto in the campaigns next year. And if they lose those elections, Democrats could end up with even bigger majorities in Congress. So it's definitely a high-stakes strategy they're pursuing.
HANSEN: David, thanks a lot.
WELNA: You're welcome, Liane.
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