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Bush makes history - a five-year streak without saying 'no'

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 16, 2005


Like pardons and executive orders, vetoes are among the cherished privileges of the Oval Office. Ike liked them. So did presidents Truman and Cleveland - and both Roosevelts.

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But apparently not George W. Bush. In fact, well into the fifth year of his presidency, he has yet to issue a single veto.

It's a streak unmatched in modern American history, one that throws into question traditional notions of checks and balances.

Although the streak could end next month - Mr. Bush is threatening a veto if Congress eases his restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research - the Bush era thus far underscores a historically high-water mark of collegial cooperation between Congress and the White House, experts say.

"We're pretty close to a parliamentary government," says G. Calvin Mackenzie, professor of government at Colby College in Watervillle, Maine, referring to Congress's close alignment with the executive branch. "We don't have much recent history with that."

Other presidents have enjoyed majority support in Congress. But few, if any, have gotten the level of disciplined backing that Mr. Bush gets from House and Senate Republicans.

"There is unusual coherence between Republicans in Congress and the president," Professor Mackenzie adds. "So there's very little getting to his desk that hasn't been pre-approved by the Republican leadership."

On many major bills that Bush has signed - No Child Left Behind and tax relief, for example - the veto was never a consideration because the White House itself had proposed the legislation. Yet on dozens of other bills, the president has become a rubber stamp for a spendthrift Congress, betraying his campaign image as a fiscal conservative, critics say.

"The notion of limited government and frugal government has been shattered by this administration, which cares far less about limited government than it does in building conservative government - a government with huge payoffs to corporate America," says Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University in Washington.

The last time a president's party dominated Capitol Hill was in 1993 and 1994, the first two years of President Clinton's term. That period was also marked by zero vetoes, but for a very different reason. Unruly House and Senate Democrats failed to toe the line on Clinton's big-ticket proposals, such as nationalized healthcare, leaving him with few major bills to sign. Lack of party discipline nearly scuttled the North American Free Trade Agreement and his budget. By the end of his second term, Mr. Clinton had issued 37 vetoes.

By contrast, when passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement was in doubt last week, Bush personally made the trip up Pennsylvania Avenue to help bring reluctant Republicans into line. CAFTA's passage, however, was a result due as much to increased party polarization as Bush's arm-twisting, experts say.