Family Leave Veto Upheld by Congress : Democrats Hope to Use Issue in Fall Election Campaigns

From Associated Press

The House today sustained President Bush's veto of a bill that would require employers to provide up to 12 weeks off without pay to workers with new babies or family emergencies.

The vote was 232 to 195 to override, 53 short of the two-thirds majority required.

The action kept President Bush's veto record perfect. He has vetoed 13 bills, and Congress has not overridden any.

Bush vetoed the bill last month after it passed the House with bipartisan support and passed the Senate on a voice vote.

The President, who had voiced support for employee leave for new mothers during the 1988 presidential campaign, said in his veto message that the government should not require employers to offer a certain kind of benefit.

Supporters had acknowledged beforehand that they lacked the votes to override the veto. But sponsors pointed to polls showing widespread support for the concept, and Democrats hoped to use the issue against Republicans in the fall election campaigns.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said before the vote that similar bills will be before Congress in the future. He said Democrats will not try to pass weaker bills in a bid to win Bush's signature.

"We're going to have this kind of legislation enacted, if not this year in this session, next year or the year after. It's inevitable," Foley said.

Republicans who supported the bill criticized Bush's veto during House debate.

Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) said Bush had not opposed bills that placed other types of requirements on employers, such as are contained in clean-air, disabilities-rights and other bills.

"It's beyond my understanding why the President vetoed this," said Roukema, the chief GOP sponsor. "What compelling national interest prompted this veto?"

"Where's our heart?" said Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. (R-S.C.), who called the bill's requirement a minimum benefit.

But Rep. Steve Bartlett (R-Tex.) praised Bush for his "courageous veto." He and other opponents charged that the bill would have imposed a "one-size-fits-all benefit" on all workers and employers, regardless of whether they might prefer differing benefits.

Bartlett said the unpaid leave is a "yuppie benefit, a benefit that can only be used by upper-income workers," while effectively denying other potential benefits to workers because of its added expense.

"The mandate before us is cruel because it denies others a benefit that is not on the political agenda of those who sponsor this," he said.

The bill would have required business and government employers to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected medical leave or with leave for the care of a new child or an ill child, parent or spouse.

Businesses with fewer than 50 workers, and workers who are among the highest-paid 10% within a company, would have been exempted.

Employers would have been required to continue health insurance benefits for those on leave and restore returning employees to their previous jobs or equivalent positions.

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