Bush Uses “Pocket Veto” to Reject Defense Authorization Bill, Kerry Calls Veto a “Disgrace”

Bush used a “pocket veto” today to reject a sweeping defense authorization bill because he disliked “a provision that would expose the Iraqi government to expensive lawsuits seeking damages from the Saddam Hussein era.”   

In a statement, Bush said the legislation “would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a crucial juncture in that nation’s reconstruction efforts.”

The president’s objections were focused on a provision deep within legislation that sets defense policy for the coming year and approves $696 billion in spending, including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also in the legislation were improved veterans benefits and tighter oversight of contractors and weapons programs.

The pocket veto also means that our troops will only “get a 3 percent raise Jan. 1 instead of the 3.5 percent authorized by the bill.” The veto was widely criticized by Democrats including Senator John Kerry who issued the following statement in anticipation of Bush’s veto of H.R. 1585, the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act:

“Only George Bush could be for supporting the troops before he was against it,” said Kerry. “We fought against this White House to provide our men and women in uniform a decent pay raise and now three days after Christmas George Bush says he’ll veto it. What a disgrace. This fight has just begun and it won’t end until we do right by those who sacrifice for our country.”

Senator Kerry had previously written to President Bush asking him to stop opposing a 3.5 percent increase in military pay and also introduced a resolution in support of a 3.5 percent pay raise. That pay raise was included in the bill President Bush now threatens to veto.

Bush’s controversial decision to use the “pocket veto” was announced today while Bush is vacationing at his Crawford Texas ranch. Use of the “pocket veto” means that “the legislation will die at midnight Dec. 31.” Reportedly, this “tactic for killing a bill can be used only when Congress is not in session,” but the Senate has been holding pro forma sessions.

A Democratic congressional aide pointed out that a pocket veto cannot be overridden by Congress and allows Bush to distance himself from the rejection of a major Pentagon bill in a time of war.

Bush sent a “Memorandum of Disapproval” to the House clerk outlining his objections to the bill, “to avoid unnecessary litigation about the non-enactment of the bill that results from my withholding approval, and to leave no doubt that the bill is being vetoed.”

Democratic aides say “they have not ruled out any legislative options, including dropping the language on lawsuits against Iraq and sending the rest of the bill back to Bush,” but, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the sponsor of the contested legislation said “the provision would allow “American victims of terror to hold perpetrators accountable — plain and simple.””

Democratic congressional leaders complained that Bush’s move was a last-minute stunt because he had never indicated his intention to veto the bill.

UPDATE: The San Francisco Chronicle notes on the “pocket veto” that it was an embarrassment for Bush administration officials, “who struggled to explain why they had not acted earlier to object to the provision, Section 1083 of a 1,300-page, $696 billion defense authorization bill.” The provision that the Bush administration objected to “would expand the ability of Americans to seek financial compensation from countries that supported or sponsored terrorist acts” including not only Iraq, but also Libya and Iran.

It was unclear how the provision had been overlooked by White House lawyers. A senior administration official told reporters in a conference call that the bill’s consequences for Iraq came into “acute focus” only a week to 10 days ago – after Iraqi officials complained to the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker.

It also was an embarrassment for some in Congress, including Republican senators who co-sponsored the provision, such as John Cornyn of Texas and Ted Stevens of Alaska.

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