WASHINGTON -- The House defeated a proposal yesterday to override President Bush's veto of the Democratic tax-cut bill, providing another humiliating setback for the Democratic leadership, which had promoted the legislation as a potential election-year campaign issue.
Not only did Democratic leaders fail to muster the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override, but lawmakers actually defeated the proposal, 215-211. Some 52 Democrats joined 163 Republicans in opposing the override move.
The action is expected to kill prospects for a tax reduction for the remainder of the 1992 election campaign.
Because two-thirds majorities are needed in both houses to override a presidential veto, the Senate will not even vote on the issue.
Both Mr. Bush and the Democrats have said they would let the matter ride and continue to blame each other for the measure's defeat. The president already has begun taking the offensive against Congress again, this time blaming the lawmakers for not cutting spending enough.
The failure to win even a simple majority climaxed a series of frustrations for Democratic congressional leaders, who had been counting on the tax-cut issue to provide them with grist for the presidential and congressional campaigns this year.
The measure instead has given them nothing but trouble, first when a sizable segment of House Democrats balked at the legislation on grounds that it would increase the budget deficit, and later when the bill passed by narrow majorities in both the House and Senate.
Meanwhile, in yet another embarrassment, House leaders were forced to postpone a vote on a Democratic-sponsored bill that would allow Congress to use savings from defense cuts to increase domestic spending -- a move now prohibited by the 1990 budget act.
The postponement, presumably until next week, marked the fourth time this year that the vote has been delayed because of lukewarm support from rank-and-file Democrats. Mr. Bush has vowed to veto that measure, too. And he reiterated his warning yesterday.
The Senate is slated to vote on a similar bill today.
The dispute stems from a provision Mr. Bush had written into the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act that prohibits Congress from using savings from defense or foreign aid cuts to finance increased domestic spending.
At the time, Democrats agreed to a compromise that pledged to keep these budgetary "firewalls" in place until fiscal 1994, which begins a year from October, when the budget agreement is scheduled to expire.
But congressional leaders want to eliminate them now so they can make fuller use of the so-called "peace dividend." Mr. Bush contends that eliminating current budget restraints would invite a run on the Treasury.
In a meeting with GOP lawmakers yesterday designed to rally support for his position, Mr. Bush called the current restrictions "the one discipline that . . . helps" in the fight against excessive spending. Without it, he said, "the only power I have . . . is the veto."
The tax bill whose veto the House sustained yesterday would have cut taxes for middle-class Americans and offset the resulting drain on the budget by increasing taxes on the rich. It also would have cut taxes on capital gains -- profits from the sale of stocks or other assets.
Although Mr. Bush agreed with some portions of the bill, he opposed the provisions that would have raised taxes on wealthy Americans and ultimately vetoed the legislation because of them. The president had proposed his own tax-cut program that eschewed any tax increases.