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Senate Overrides Family Leave Veto

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The Senate, taking a political swipe at President Bush, voted 68-31 Thursday to override his veto of the family leave bill -- the first time in over three years that Democrats in the chamber have been able to muster the necessary two-thirds majority.

Democrats immediately boasted that the bipartisan action -- in which 14 Republicans voted in favor of the override -- showed that Bush was ``isolated'' on the question and had lost his credibility for using family values as an issue in the presidential campaign.

But strategists conceded that the Democrats' victory is likely to be short-lived, since the House is expected to sustain the president's veto when it takes up the override question Friday or next week. Support of two-thirds of both houses is needed to overturn a veto.

The bill, which Bush vetoed Tuesday night, would require companies with 50 or more employees to grant their workers up to 12 weeks of leave either for medical reasons or so they can care for a newborn baby, a newly adopted child or a sick family member. While companies would not be required to pay a worker's salary during the period, they would be required to maintain health care benefits.

The family leave bill has been turned into a political football as Democrats, who revived the bill in late summer to counter Bush's then-new emphasis on the family values issue, have sought to embarrass the president over his opposition to the legislation.

The measure is one of some half-dozen pieces of social legislation that Democratic congressional leaders have targeted for possible override votes in the midst of the fall campaign. Others include the cable television bill and abortion rights legislation.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Albert Gore, D-Tenn., who stayed in Washington for the late-morning vote before heading out on the campaign trail again, said the balloting demonstrated "that this country is ready for new leadership with new ideas."

"It is impossible for President Bush to talk about family values and veto the Family Leave Act," he said. "Those who voted with the Bush-Quayle position chose to say, `Read our lip-service to family values.'"

Bush proposed an alternative plan Tuesday that would provide tax credits of up to $1,200 an employee for businesses that give workers time off for family emergencies, but Democrats contended that the proposal would be inadequate and said their own legislation was needed.

It was not immediately clear how close the House might come to mustering the needed two-thirds majority. Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., told reporters that the override effort would be "difficult," but insisted that House members "are going to have a vote."

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., a major sponsor of the family leave legislation in the House, said that proponents were seeking to delay the vote until next week in hopes that they could muster more support.