President Bush won his 31st straight veto fight with Congress yesterday when the Senate failed to override his veto of legislation to allow people to register to vote when they apply for driver's licenses or government benefits.
The Senate voted 62 to 38 to override the veto but fell five votes short of the two-thirds necessary to enact the "motor voter" bill over the president's objection, preserving Bush's four-year winning streak in veto confrontations with Congress.
Only one Democrat, Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.), voted to sustain the veto.
Six Republicans split with the president in voting to override: Dave Durenberger (Minn.), Mark O. Hatfield (Ore.), James M. Jeffords (Vt.), Robert W. Kasten Jr. (Wis.), Bob Packwood (Ore.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.).
When Bush vetoed the bill last July, he warned it would impose "unnecessary, burdensome, expensive and constitutionally questionable" federal regulations on states and expose the election process to "an unacceptable risk of fraud and corruption" without any guarantee of greater voter participation.
The bill, which would have taken effect for the 1994 elections, would require states to allow people to register by mail or when they apply for driver's or other licenses, permits of various kinds and unemployment, disability or welfare benefits. More than half the states already permit some form of mail and motor-voter registration.
In debate Monday, Democrats, describing the bill as a vehicle for "one-stop democracy," accused the president of standing in the way of expansion of democracy at home while trying to promote it abroad.
"I think President Bush vetoed this legislation out of fear -- fear of changing the status quo, fear of the American people," said Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.).
"At the same time that he was calling for the Congress to support the Russian aid bill -- to stablize democracy in the former Soviet Union -- he vetoed a bill to enrich democracy here at home," he added.
Although it may not have been the "politically correct thing to do," responded Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Bush did the "right thing" in vetoing the bill.
"Even if we tailor our voter registration laws to political couch potatoes, there is no guarantee that voter turnout will increase," he said. "All this bill guarantees is that it will have a lot of people on the voter rolls."