Congress overrides presidential veto

Lawmakers feeling the heat of angry voters are beginning to cast votes aimed at helping ease the crisis despite the threat of vetoes by President Bush.

Especially dramatic is the shift among Republicans who fear voter rage next November if they continue to follow Bush off the cliff. Just before they adjourned for a weeklong Memorial Day recess, the Senate voted 83-13 and the House 316-108 to override Bush’s veto of the long-stalled farm bill (the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008).

Katie Ziegler, a spokesperson for the National Farmers Union, told the World that 73 percent of the funding in the farm bill is dedicated to nutrition programs like food stamps, the nutrition program for women and infant children (WIC), the school lunch program and the surplus food commodity program. “This legislation provides an immediate $50 million infusion that helps those food banks that have empty shelves and long lines of hungry people,” Ziegler said.

The National Farmers Union, she said, prefers to call the legislation the “food bill” because it provides a vital lifeline for the rising tide of hunger across the nation. Only 16 percent of the funding in the bill goes to farm commodity programs that benefit farmers. Contrary to Bush’s claim that farmers are raking in profits, Ziegler said, most family and independent farmers have been hit hard by sharp increases in the cost of energy and other inputs they cannot pass on to consumers.

“Bush’s veto of this farm bill demonstrates just how out of touch this president is with the real America,” she said. “The economy is in the tank. We have an unpopular war. Gas prices and mortgage foreclosures are soaring out of sight. This is a president with the lowest approval rating in history.”

Then just before they adjourned, lawmakers approved a $166 billion Iraq war supplemental bill with several urgently needed benefit programs attached. Bush, furious over these add-ons has vowed to veto it.

The package includes 13 weeks of extended unemployment compensation, with an additional 13 weeks in states with highest joblessness, and increased funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps senior citizens and the poor heat their homes.

Also included is the “Twenty-First Century GI Bill.” It was approved by the Senate 75-22. Twenty-five Republican senators broke with Bush and voted for the bill. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted for the bill. John McCain did not vote but said he opposed it as too costly and backed a cheaper, skimpier GOP alternative.

The GI Bill provides $52 billion over the next 10 years to cover tuition, room and board at a public college or university for veterans with at least three years active duty.

The House earlier approved it 256-166.

Americans United for Change spokesman Jeremy Funk told the World, “This vote shows that Bush and his clone John McCain are increasingly isolated. Across the board, the Republicans are running for cover, hiding their ties with Bush.”

Nevertheless, Funk added, “We’re not going to let voters in their districts forget that the votes of these Republican senators and House members enabled Bush on everything from the economy to the war in Iraq. This is a war that has made us less safe and cost us dearly in our national priorities.”

Americans United for Change is running TV ads in four congressional districts reminding voters that the Republican incumbents, Michelle Bachman (Minn.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.) and Tom Feeney (Fla.), all voted against the GI Bill.
“They go home to their districts, wave the flag, talk about supporting our troops. Then they go back to Washington and vote with Bush against the troops,” Funk said.

The prospect for legislative victories in the pre-election period is underlined by the 402-9 House vote on May 21 to extend Family and Medical Leave Act benefits to flight attendants at a time when Bush seeks to repeal that law. Likewise, the Senate stopped a filibuster aimed at blocking a bill that extends collective bargaining rights to firefighters and other emergency first responders.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has just pushed through committee S 1792, which requires employers of 25 workers to give 90 days advance notice of a plant shutdown. It also doubles the back pay employers are required to pay employees for violation of the law.

In a maneuver aimed at embarrassing the Democratic leadership, dozens of GOP House lawmakers voted “present” on the $166 billion Iraq war supplemental. It went down to defeat May 15 by a 149-141 vote with the antiwar movement pressing the demand for termination of funding for the war. But a week later, the Senate added the funds back in and defeated, 34-63, language calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

However, the antiwar forces fight on. On May 22, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and the Progressive Caucus scored a win, when the House passed 243-183 a bill requiring the president to obtain congressional approval for any agreement for permanent or extended U.S. occupation of Iraq. Bush has already signed a “friendship” declaration with Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, aimed at locking in a permanent U.S. occupation of Iraq after he leaves office.