SOMETIME this week, President Bush will be formally presented with the Congress-approved Family and Medical Leave Act. The President has already declared that he will veto this bill, which provides employees of large companies an assurance of three months of unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption or serious illness.
Bush's decision to veto this much-needed bill is disturbing on several levels. In an oft-quoted campaign speech to a group of Republican women in Indiana, candidate George Bush said that what he meant by a "gentler nation" was one in which a woman does not have to worry about getting her job back if she takes time off to have a baby or care a sick child. But we live in a nation where a woman must worry about returning to her job after having a child or caring for a sick family member.
There are countless examples of men and women who have taken time off for serious family emergencies and, as a result, have found themselves out of work. The FMLA is a moderate bill which would move us closer to candidate Bush's "gentler nation." However, it is clear that candidate Bush and President Bush are not the same.
Bush's promise to veto is disturbing not only because of its hypocrisy. On this topic, Bush has bowed to the demands of the special interest business lobby. While the coalition of groups fighting for FMLA includes all the major labor unions, health groups, religious organization, women's groups and education specialists--hundreds of organizations representing a vast cross-section of the country--the opposition to the bill comes from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). These two special interest groups had Bush's ear on this issue long before FMLA passed the House in May.
His decision to veto is thus politics at its worst. Vetoing a bill which has widespread national support (in a national poll, 80 percent of respondents said they favored medical leave of this sort), Bush is neglecting his responsibilities as an elected leader of this country. He is not running the country the way that the people who voted him into office expected he would.
Of course, this neglect of his responsibilities has become hardly surprising from George Bush. When he vetoes FMLA, it will be his twelfth veto. And he is not vetoing bills passed narrowly by the Democratic congressional majority. The FMLA is an example. This bill received vocal support in the House not only from Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Co.) but also from Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.), as well as more than 30 other Republicans. And in the Senate, where the bill passed unanimously, not only Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Ma.), but also Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kan.) submitted floor statements in support. That these Republicans, among others, would vocally dissent from their President's position is a further indication that Bush should reexamine his choice.
However, it is unlikely that the President will take another look at the FMLA. In fact--and this may be the most disturbing fact of them all--Bush has refused to meet with any of the bill's supporters to discuss his reasoning. More than 20 Republican congresspeople last week requested a meeting with him. He declined. A group of leaders from the FMLA Coalition issued a similar request. Again, he declined. And more than 30 workers from around the country who have lost their jobs because they took time off for a family emergency, similarly requested a meeting. Once again, Bush said no. These refusals show how uninterested our President is in hearing both sides of an issue.
After Bush vetoes FMLA, both House and Senate members will launch a campaign to override. In both bodies, the necessary votes for an override are very likely attainable. If FMLA garners the support necessary for an override, it will be yet another indication that Bush is totally unwilling to act as a responsible representative of this nation's people.
Perhaps in the next few days, he will come to his senses. This, however, seems unlikely. If we are lucky, our Congress, by overriding his veto, will show him that he can no longer ignore the opinions of the American public.