Of three dozen bills President Bush has vetoed, none is more loaded with potential political peril than his weekend rejection of re-regulation of cable TV rates.
Behind in the polls and accused by Democrats of callousness to the hardship caused by a poor economy, Bush is gambling that he can prevail in Congress and persuade the voters that the bill was misguided.``He made a mistake,' Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton said Sunday. ``I would have signed it.'
The president has won every veto showdown so far, and White House strategists fear that a defeat now would be viewed as a sign of weakness with the election a month away. To forestall that, the president invited a group of Republican senators to the White House on Sunday.
But if elections are decided on pocketbook issues, this one carries clout. The bill was drafted in part to respond to consumer complaints about spiraling prices, and its sponsors proclaim it loudly as an effective remedy.
Nor is it the only measure aimed at middle-class voters that Democrats have served up for vetoes in the waning days of the 102nd Congress. Bush rejected a bill to give many workers time off to deal with family emergencies, and another to liberalize abortion counseling at federally funded family planning clinics.
He was sustained in both of those, but Democrats seemed content. ``This issue frames this campaign. Yes, it really is about who is for families,' Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said last week as Republicans sustained the veto of the family-leave bill.
At the same time, Democrats have ducked other confrontations where Bush might have held the high ground politically. When the president vowed at the Republican National Convention to veto spending bills that exceeded his request, Democrats quietly trimmed them to avoid being labeled big spenders.
The latest bill Bush vetoed would cap rates for basic cable service, open the door to competition from emerging programmers such as home satellite services, and let broadcasters seek compensation for cable's use of their signals.