WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Addressing a Republican fund-raising dinner at the Washington Convention Center last Wednesday night, President Bush declared: "If the Democrats want to test us, that's why they give the president the veto. I'm looking forward to vetoing excessive spending, and I'm looking forward to having the United States Congress support my veto."
That was more than blather for a political pep rally. Bush plans to veto the Homeland Security appropriations bill nearing final passage, followed by vetoes of eight more money bills sent him by the Democratic-controlled Congress.
That constitutes a veto onslaught of historic proportions from a president who did not reject a single bill during his first term. Of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2008, only three will be signed by the president in the form shaped by the House. What's more, Bush correctly claimed he has the one-third plus one House votes needed to sustain these vetoes. The unpopular president is taking the offensive on fiscal responsibility. After bowing to Republican demands on earmarks, Democratic leadership face a battle of the budget.
Bush was the first president since John Quincy Adams not to exercise his veto power during a complete four-year term, even though the Republican-controlled Congress was on a spending spree. He has vetoed two bills in his second term, rejecting only the Iraq war money bill since Democrats took control.
Dwight D. Eisenhower a half century ago seemed no more comfortable with the veto, but I observed how much Ike was energized during his last two years as president following a Democratic midterm election landslide by using what he called his "veto pistol" 24 times (only twice overridden despite huge Democratic majorities). Bush's aides report similar enthusiasm by the current president on the eve of his veto offensive.