Bullheaded Bush Slaps The GOP

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 10, 2007
| Del.icio.us

It’s one thing to commit political suicide - eviscerating yourself on a well-honed sword of principle and honor. It is another to behead your loyal followers in the name of pure bullheadedness.

It appears that the latter is what President George W. Bush is about these days. Last week he vetoed legislation that would have extended health coverage to millions of American children.

The veto was only Bush’s third in his more than six-and-one-half years in the presidency. He doesn’t seem to have recognized, until the sixth year of his presidency, that he had a constitutional right to veto congressional legislation. It wasn’t until September 2006 that Bush finally found his veto pen, nixing a bill that would have expanded embryonic stem-cell research.

In justifying his veto, W said that he was coming down, once again, on the side of life - but certainly not on the side of political life for Republicans. Opposing embryonic stem cell research may speak to the evangelical religious right that anchors the Republican base, but it’s anti-life to those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease or spinal injuries; and they are Republicans, Democrats, independents and political agnostics.

Bush’s stem-cell veto didn’t cost Republicans their congressional majorities in November 2006; the war in Iraq did. But it played a role. In at least one state, Missouri, political observers credit it with electing Democrat Claire McCaskill to the United States Senate.

Following the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress - hard-won on the issue of Iraq - Bush exercised his second veto. This time it was of a $214 billion war-funding bill approved by a House and Senate controlled by the Democrats.

It was generous funding - all that the president asked for and a couple of dollars more. But it contained a time-line for the withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, and Bush would have none of it. So, despite the election-day voter rejection of his war policies, commissions urging a reversal of Iraq policy, and polls that showed Americans wanted its soldiers out of Iraq, Bush said no.

Last week the president vetoed a measure that would have extended health care coverage to some 3.8 million American children. It is an expansion of the State Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that already covers 6.6 million kids. The new legislation would cover children in a family of four making three times the federal poverty level: $62,000 a year. The initial SCHIP’s law covered families at twice the poverty level.

In rejecting the bill, Bush claimed it would grant government healthcare coverage to families who already had private insurance. In a post-veto speech, Bush said that “the policies of the government ought to be, help poor children and to focus on poor children. The policies of the government ought to help find private insurance, not federal coverage.”

Eighteen Senate Republicans disagreed with him. They voted with the Democratic majority in supporting the vetoed bill. Those numbers spell a veto override in the Senate.

Not so in the House. Enough Republicans opposed the bill in the House of Representatives that - if they hold - Bush’s veto will be sustained.

“If.” A recent poll showed that 72 percent of the American people favor expansion of the SCHIP. Republican congressmen and senators can digest those numbers, even if a lame duck president - in the name of principle - cannot.

But what principle? On the eve of his own re-election bid in 2004, Bush championed and signed a budget-busting Medicare prescription drug bill - a far, far larger government program than SCHIP. The difference was that it helped Bush win re-election - so principle be damned.

In 2008, none of the Republicans on the ballot will be named George W. Bush. They’ll be senators like Minnesota’s Norm Coleman and Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, New Hampshire’s John Sununu and Colorado’s Wayne Allard - 22 Republican Senate seats and all of the party’s House members.

Bush doesn’t seem to care. In the waning months of Bushworld, W’s so-called principle trumps both the health of America’s children and the long-term health of his party.

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