PRESIDENT Bush's threat to veto a pending minimum-wage bill is prompted by more than a disagreement over 30 cents. Political analysts see the veto as a way to establish the President's credibility in any future veto fight with the Democratic Congress.
The Senate and House have yet to meet to work on a compromise bill in the wake of last week's Senate vote to raise the minimum wage to $4.55 an hour. The House previously approved a similar measure. Bush has said he would support a $4.25-an-hour minimum wage but would veto a larger increase.
Once the President said he would veto the bill, says Rep. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma, who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, ``He must veto it. And the reason for that is Ronald Reagan.... Ronald Reagan, during his eight years in the presidency, constantly talked about vetoing and never vetoed. So Bush, through no fault of his own, starts out with a tremendous credibility gap.''
By almost everyone's account the minimum wage bill doesn't have sufficient congressional support in either the House or Senate for Congress to override a veto.
It is this virtual certainty of victory that makes a presidential veto attractive to some in the White House, says Douglas Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
``I think they would like a victory,'' Mr. Besharov says. ``They want to be able to make a credible veto threat - and sustain it'' if Congress tries to override.
In considering the veto, future social proposals the White House dislikes may be as much at issue as the minimum wage package itself.
``I think they need one big veto win,'' says Besharov. ``There's a lot of things out there'' that the White House doesn't support. Democratic versions of parental leave and child care, he says, are two examples.
A veto win in Bush's pocket would strengthen his bargaining position with Congress on these other issues.
Minimum wage seemed a good place to take a stand. Many Democrats as well as Republicans worried about how many jobs a wage hike would cost.
``There's no question that it reduces jobs,'' Besharov says. ``The question is: How many?''
Besides, even though the minimum wage has lost 40 percent of its purchasing power since it was last increased in 1981, most of the working poor earn more than the minimum wage, except in rural areas. Thus the argument that raising it helps lift the poor out of poverty carries less weight than it once did.
During the presidential campaign Mr. Bush supported a raise in the minimum wage. During this spring's congressional debate he offered to support a 95-cent-an-hour hike, to $4.25 an hour. Some Democrats miscalculated his strategy.
``We really expected that this was an opening offer,'' complains one key Democratic staffer. Instead it turned out to be just what Bush had said it was: his final offer.
It was, says Representative Edwards, a substantial compromise. ``The question is: How far do you compromise?'' he says.
``The point comes,'' he says, ``that you have to clearly say where you are.'' Bush's decision to draw that $4.25 line so clearly and not to compromise a penny beyond it, ``has made it, from the Republican standpoint in Congress, much, much easier,'' Edwards says. ``Everybody knew just where he was.''
To have compromised again, Besharov says, would have been ``a major concession.''