House Falls Short in Vote to Override Veto

The vote was a setback for the domestic agenda of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The vote was a setback for the domestic agenda of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (By Brendan Smialowski -- Bloomberg News)
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007

House Democrats were unable to override President Bush's veto of a key domestic spending bill yesterday, forcing the party back to the drawing board on some of its most important domestic initiatives, including early-childhood education and heating-bill payments for the elderly.

With a vote of 277 to 141, Democrats lost their bid to defy Bush's veto of the labor, health and education bill. The vote was a setback for the Democratic social agenda championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (Wis.), the bill's chief architect.

The $606 billion bill includes spending for entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as $151 billion in discretionary spending, including more money for medical research, Head Start, student loans, job training and a range of assistance programs for low-income people.

The bill is the largest of a dozen 2008 spending bills at the center of a battle between the White House and Congress over the federal budget. It was the first to draw a veto from Bush, who has threatened to do the same to most appropriations bills because of what he says is excess spending by Congress.

Democrats said the bill is intended primarily to restore health-care, education and medical research programs that have suffered from years of Republican cuts. The bill accounted for half of the $22 billion difference between Bush's overall budget request and the extra spending Democrats want.

Democratic leaders were quick to turn the president's rejection of the bill into an opportunity to condemn administration policies, contrasting Bush's complaints about the legislation's cost with spending on the Iraq war.

"The president says we can't afford to provide help with home heating oil as winter approaches. This would be a million and a half families across our country, for [the cost of] a day and a half or so in Iraq," Pelosi said yesterday.

Obey, a 19-term congressman with a reputation as a dealmaker, tried to draw in Republicans by adding requested money for special education and abstinence-only sex education.

In crafting the bill, Obey avoided ideological flashpoints by rejecting changes to anti-abortion measures that some party liberals wanted, but that the White House identified as reason to veto the bill.

The effort at compromise lured 54 consistent Republican supporters and had a dozen more on the fence. But in the end, White House allies proved reluctant to buck Bush on a bill that was equally symbolic to him as an opportunity to demonstrate to skeptics in his party that he is willing to hold down federal spending.

On the House floor yesterday, Obey chastised Republicans for following "the president's budget priorities like lemmings."

Republicans appeared reluctant to criticize the bill on the floor. Tossing out his planned remarks, Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, instead simply urged fellow party members to sustain Bush's veto, saying, "Never miss the chance to shut up."

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