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Congress Overrides Cable Bill Veto, Hands Bush First Defeat

By Helen Dewar
and Kenneth J. Cooper

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

A defiant Congress Monday night overrode President Bush's veto of legislation to re-regulate the cable television industry, handing Bush the first veto-fight defeat of his presidency as he heads into the final month of his reelection campaign.

Despite an almost frantic White House lobbying effort to get wavering Republicans to switch sides, the Senate voted 74 to 25 -- the same as it did in passing the bill last month -- to enact the legislation over the president's objections.

Three hours later, amid cheers, whistles and shouts of "Four more months" from Democrats, the House followed suit by a vote of 308 to 114, ending the president's winning streak at 35 consecutive vetoes sustained by the Democratic-controlled Congress. It was an even bigger margin than the 280-to-128 vote by which the House passed the bill last month.

Jubilant backers of the legislation won substantially more than the two-thirds required to override a veto, with seven votes to spare in the Senate and 22 in the House.

Republicans, including all the senators who had been lobbied personally by Bush, held firm in the face of pleas from their leaders for loyalty to their embattled president. "This is politics. This is an effort to embarrass President Bush 30 days before the elections," Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) told the Senate in a strong last-minute appeal to Republicans that apparently fell on deaf ears, even among some other members of the GOP leadership.

In the House, Rep. Steve Gunderson (Wis.), chief deputy Republican whip, disagreed with Dole. "This is not a vote to embarrass the president. This is a vote to support our constituents," Gunderson told the House in urging an override, which was also supported by Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.)

The bill would impose new government controls on rates for basic cable services and for cable equipment. Cable prices have risen at three times the rate of inflation since Congress allowed most franchise owners to begin setting their own rates in 1986. The White House, in a statement before the House vote, said the president wants to lower prices for 56 million subscribers through increased competition.

The override came as an already weary, grumpy 102nd Congress headed into a marathon night session in hopes of adjourning Tuesday if the Senate can unravel snarls that have developed over energy legislation and a $28 billion tax relief and urban aid package.

Although passed by the House Monday night, the energy bill could force the Senate back into session Thursday, after the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, if a dispute over language to expedite development of a nuclear waste site in Nevada is not resolved by Tuesday. Lawmakers were also anxiously awaiting word about whether the president would sign or veto the tax bill.

Legislation to ease the administration's ban on use of aborted fetuses in biomedical research was an early casualty of the adjournment juggernaut. Senate Democratic leaders bowed reluctantly to a Republican filibuster and shelved the bill, blaming both Bush and "the most extreme antiabortion zealots in his party" for the death of the measure. Democrats said the bill would be the first priority of Congress next year.

But the Senate joined the House in passing the last three of 13 appropriations bills that Congress had to pass for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. The bills, funding defense, foreign aid and congressional operations, are expected to be signed by Bush.

In the Senate vote on the cable bill, 24 Republicans, a majority of GOP senators, voted with most Democrats to override the veto, including all of the roughly 10 Republicans who were courted personally by Bush and top White House officials. All Washington area senators, including Virginia Republican John W. Warner, who was lobbied personally by Bush, voted to override.

In the House, 77 Republicans voted to override, while 85 voted to sustain.