President’s Vetoes Leave Congress Settling for “Good” Instead of “Perfect”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar calls it “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

That has become Salazar’s way of dealing with a president who has become as much an obstructionist as an advocate.Like many in Congress, Salazar has grown willing to take what he can get on certain critical bills while waiting for a new resident in the White House.

George W. Bush vetoed an expansion of children’s health care for the third time last week. For a guy who never used to veto anything except embryonic stem cell research, the latest State Children’s Health Insurance Program veto was Bush’s seventh this year.

“Every time he does veto something, it ends up hurting the people of America and the people of my state,” Salazar said.

“The problem with the President is that he’s taken the attitude that `it’s my way or the highway.’ We share power in this country. There ought not to be only a George Bush way forward.”

The latest casualty of the President’s intransigence was the renewable electricity standard. That would have required utility companies to produce 15 percent of electrical power from renewable sources. In a nod to power companies, the White House threatened to veto an energy bill that included such a requirement, and the Senate backed down.

“With a different president we’ll get a different standard,” Salazar reasoned.

The take-what-you-can approach only increases frustration among Democrats in Congress. But it is too soon to say how frustrated the voters are by Bush’s tactics.

“With these vetoes, the President is playing politics with real, pocket-book issues for the hardworking people in the middle here in Colorado,” said 7th District Rep. Ed Permutter. “My constituents voted for a change in this country, and my colleagues and I in the Democratic Congress are acting. Coloradans want tax relief; they want health care for their kids, as well as an end to the war in Iraq. This President is ignoring the will of the people and standing as the sole roadblock to real progress in this country.”

And yet Congress continues to cave to the President’s vetoes and veto threats. Republicans refuse to provide enough votes to override Bush’s actions, gambling that standing with the President against domestic programs won’t hurt their chances for reelection.

Those who are not standing for reelection have nothing to lose. So you hear this from outgoing Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard:

“I am a strong supporter of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and want the program to cover all uninsured, lower-income children. The (new) SCHIP legislation … includes frivolous spending, expands coverage to children already covered by private insurance and neglects the original intent of the program to provide health coverage for low-income children. While I support the reauthorization of SCHIP, I do not support legislation that expands the program and serves as an initial step towards government-run health care.”

Republican Reps. Marilyn Musgrave, Doug Lamborn and Tom Tancredo did not respond to requests for comment about the impact of Bush’s string of vetoes. But Musgrave, who faces a significant challenge from former Salazar staffer Betsy Markey in the 4th Congressional District, has twice voted to uphold the President’s veto of expanded children’s health care and will likely have to cast a third vote as the election season begins in earnest. Although challenged within his own party, the district Lamborn represents is safely Republican, which means nothing the President vetoes can really hurt the GOP candidate.

Tancredo, like Allard and Bush, is a lame duck. But his successor will almost certainly be a conservative Republican.

Nevertheless, gridlock and stalled budgeting looms as an issue in every Congressional race in Colorado and across the country. The vetoes will also play a role in determining Bush’s successor.

One of the president’s recent vetoes targeted a domestic appropriations bill that included $150.7 billion in school aid, health care and other programs.

That obstruction will likely lead to what’s called an “omnibus” budget bill that blends these vital domestic programs with others that Bush dares not veto.

These days, with this president, that seems like the only way to get people what they need.

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Jim Spencer

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