December 28, 2007

A Strange Veto Threat

First George Bush couldn't find his veto pen, and now it looks like he wants to wear it out before the end of his term in 13 months. Today, the White House announced that it would veto the hard-won defense authorization bill that passed with huge majorities in both chambers of Congress, which had been until now a legislative victory for the administration. The reason has Congressional leadership apoplectic:

President Bush will veto a huge Defense Department bill because of concerns by the Iraqi government that Iraqi assets in American banks could be vulnerable to claims from victims of Saddam Hussein, the White House said Friday in Texas.

“The new democratic government of Iraq, during this crucial period of reconstruction, cannot afford to have its funds entangled in such lawsuits in the United States,” Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.

Mr. Stanzel said the president objects to a section in the National Defense Authorization Act that would permit plaintiffs’ lawyers to freeze Iraqi funds and expose Iraq to “massive liability in lawsuits concerning the misdeeds of the Saddam Hussein regime.” At least one pending lawsuit reportedly seeks $1 billion or more. ....

Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi were irate, asserting that the president was “bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed.”

“The administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto,” the Democrats said. “The American people will have every right to be disappointed if the president vetoes this legislation, needlessly delaying implementation of the troops’ pay raise” and other items important to military families.

Not that I like siding with Pelosi and Reid, but in this case they have a point. This problem never got raised while the bill went through Congress, and unlike the omnibus bill, everyone had time to look at this one. In fact, the administration forced Congress to strip out one portion of the bill that expanded the definition of hate crimes -- on the threat of a veto. Bush got almost everything he wanted from this bill, and certainly more than he got from the omnibus appropriation.

A veto here would simply provide Congress an opportunity to rebuke Bush on Iraq. Because of the sudden shift by the White House, Republicans will not feel inclined to support Bush on an override vote. It will likely garner far more than the two-thirds necessary in each house, and the entire exercise will waste time and effort. Instead, the Bush administration should work with Republican leaders for a separate piece of legislation that addresses this deficiency. If the Democrats don't want to cooperate, then make that a campaign issue, but don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

A veto now and again helps cleanse the political palate, but in this case, it looks more like someone bit their tongue. If the White House failed to due its due diligence while Congress formulated this bill, let's not put the victory we gained on war funding and military spending at risk to fix that problem.


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