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President Bush was undoubtedly glad to see Congress leave town for its Memorial Day recess. It was a bad week for him on Capitol Hill and likely a harbinger of more bad weeks to come.
The Congress completely deserted him, with wholesale defections by his own Republicans, on the $307 billion farm bill that enshrines and expands the worst abuses of the agribiz subsidy and support system.
Bush has been battling the bill since last October, and this week the Senate overrode his veto by 82 to 13, including 35 Republicans, and in the House by 316-108 including 100 Republicans. Altogether it was not an auspicious start to the GOP campaign to rebrand itself as the party of frugality and small government.
It was only the second veto override of the Bush presidency. The first was a costly water projects bill, also dear to lawmakers’ hearts.
Then the Senate approved by a veto proof 75 to 22 margin, including 25 Republicans, to pass a $165 billion war funding bill that also includes a costly domestic component that Bush has opposed and also promised to veto.
The bill would pay for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring. It includes expensive veterans’ education benefits — $52 billion over 10 years — that the White House and John McCain, sponsor of a more modest bill, believe would have the effect of enticing soldiers to leave the military after one tour. And the bill includes $16 billion for two years of extended unemployment benefits and money for such items as levee repair and rural schools. In a bow to Bush, it does not include any timetables for troop withdrawal.
If Bush has anything going for him it is that the House Democrats insist on being, well, Democrats. The bill the House sent the president to sign was missing 34 pages, out of 673, raising several technical problems. The House quickly re-passed an intact version of the bill but it made the Democratic leadership look like something less than a well-oiled legislative machine.
And the House Democrats are still deeply divided over funding for the war. They did send to the Senate the domestic component of the bill, including the veterans’ benefits, but at the insistence of conservative Democrats it includes a tax increase on upper incomes to pay for it.
That trip to Europe next month must be looking awfully good to Bush about now. Slovenia is said to be lovely this time of year.