The Senate fell one vote short of overturning President Bush's veto of a major civil rights bill on Wednesday, giving a victory to those who contended the legislation would have led to the widespread use of quotas in hiring and promotion. The 66-34 vote, one less than the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, killed the measure in the 101st Congress but is unlikely to quell the debate over whether the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1990, or similar bills almost certain to be proposed next year, would enshrine quotas in the workplace.
Bush has said the concept of quotas is one Americans regard as both distasteful and unfair. The measure's supporters insist it was not a quota bill, and they note that the bill explicitly ruled out quotas as a remedy for discrimination.
Whether the bill would have led to quotas is not a simple question. And the answer has less to do with what the legislation actually said than with how employers would react to it.
Some employers have contended they would have had to resort to quotas to protect themselves from discrimination suits under the proposal.
The legislation was intended to reverse a series of recent Supreme Court decisions that civil rights groups say made it more difficult for workers to win discrimination suits.
All 55 Democrats in the Senate, including Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, and 11 Republicans voted to override the veto. Republican Sen. Connie Mack of Florida was among those voting to sustain the president's position.
From its inception last year, the bill was buffeted not only by legal critiques but also by racial politics, with proponents contending Bush was pandering to conservatives and business groups in this election year by opposing a bill widely supported by minority groups and women.
In vetoing the bill Monday, after an unsuccessful effort over the weekend to have Congress modify it, Bush said he did so "with deep regret" because he supported some provisions.
The White House said it was pleased by Wednesday's vote and urged Congress to adopt the alternate bill Bush proposed over the weekend.
Opponents of the congressional bill brandished the notion of quotas in Wednesday's debate. Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said the bill would result in "quotas, quotas and more employment quotas."
Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., said the president's veto was "a political move to try to get to conservative, Democratic blue-collar workers. I think it's Bush listening to his political advisers, and shame on him. It was a cold political decision."
The Bush administration and the various business groups that joined forces to defeat the measure do not contend the measure explicitly required companies to use quotas in hiring and promoting employees.
Rather, they contend that because the measure would make it so easy for workers to bring discrimination lawsuits, personnel managers would inoculate themselves against such suits by relying on quotas.
"As soon as I tell a corporate manager about the exposure to litigation he would have under this bill, his first question to me is, "How do I reduce that exposure?'
" said James Paras, a San Francisco lawyer specializing in defending companies facing discrimination suits.
The answer, he said, is to begin to "hire by the numbers," that is by quotas.
William Taylor, a veteran civil rights lawyer and lobbyist, countered that it is false to suggest quotas would result from the bill.
Rather, he said, that issue has been used to obscure the administration's real aim: to make it harder to bring civil rights suits and to mount a political appeal to white voters.
There is no dispute that it is illegal to discriminate intentionally. At issue in the debate over the civil rights bill was the trickier question of how an employee may prove discrimination when there is no evidence of any intent by the employer.
_ Information from AP was used in this report.