Majority of One

December 08, 1991

In one of the last acts of the first session of this Congress, the House of Representatives upheld President Bush's veto of legislation dealing with the so-called abortion-clinic gag rule. That was unfortunate. Now women who depend on federally supported clinics will be denied what every man, woman and child expects and should get from a physician: honest and confidential professional advice unaffected by political considerations.

Under present federal regulations, as interpreted by the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote, physicians and other health professionals at 4,000 federally funded family planning clinics may not even breathe the word abortion, no matter how medically indicated such a step -- or even consideration of such a step -- may be.

Congress passed a law overturning those regulations. The president vetoed it. Had the House voted to overturn the veto, the Senate would have, too, according to Minority Leader Bob Dole. So the Bush presidential record remained intact. Congress has not overridden a single veto during Mr. Bush's three years in office. It has tried and failed, or not tried at all, 24 times.

The House vote on the gag rule was as depressing for Democrats for partisan reasons as it was for those who oppose the gag rule for philosophical reasons. The failure to override suggests that the president and his party are firmly in control of the government. As Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., said, "there's a dependable vote to sustain the president's veto [of any bill]." Right. As Rep. Les AuCoin said, D-Ore., put it, "If you can't get to two-thirds to override a gag rule, you can't get to two-thirds to override anything."

George Bush and his minority Republicans on Capitol Hill have now defeated legislation that was supported by 276, 275, 260 members of the 435-member House, and by 62, 63, 64, 65 and even 66 members of the 100-member Senate in prior votes. Those who believe in "divided government" had better think again.

That is especially true for Democrats who have been content to let the Republicans win the White House every four years, so long as they could keep control of the House and Senate every two. The Democrats in Congress, though a solid majority in both chambers, are not true partners on matters of special interest to the president. A president who can keep his party largely united behind him -- and a Republican chief executive usually can -- is a majority of one.

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