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That yes man in the White House

That yes man in the White House

By Karen Tumulty

The presidential veto is like a nuclear weapon: no one will be afraid of it unless he thinks it might actually be used. Ronald Reagan, who used to invite Congress to "make my day" by passing bills he didn't like, killed nearly 70 of them. The first President Bush, battling a Democratic Congress, racked up 44 vetoes, only one of them overridden.


But conservatives on Capitol Hill are becoming frustrated by President George W. Bush's reluctance to follow in Dad's footsteps. After nearly 16 months in office, Bush has not exercised a single veto. He has occasionally threatened one (on a post-Sept. 11 spending bill, for example) and got changes as a result. But more often he has, in the view of conservatives, caved in too early. On campaign-finance reform, he made it clear from the outset that he would probably sign whatever bill was sent to him, and he did.

White House legislative-affairs director Nick Calio says conservatives are simply disappointed over losing battles that were never winnable in the first place. To use the veto effectively, "you've got to find the right form and the right bill," he says. At a private strategy session in West Virginia last February, Bush told Republican Senators he would welcome a chance to wield his veto power. The chance may come soon, on a $27 billion emergency bill for the war on terrorism. If Congress loads it up with additional spending, as expected, conservatives are counting on Bush to finally put down the pen and say no.




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