President Bush made good on a threat and vetoed the cable television regulation bill Saturday, saying the legislation would lead to higher cable rates for the 56-million households that subscribe.
In his veto message, issued during a campaign stop in Fort Lauderdale, Bush said: "Contrary to the claims made by its proponents, this bill will not reduce the prices Americans pay for cable television service."
The veto sets up a collision between Bush and Congress that could lead to the first override of a Bush veto. The bill passed both the House and the Senate last month with more than the two-thirds majority needed to override.
But the White House has mounted a furious campaign to persuade Republican congressmen to switch their votes and sustain the president. An override this close to Election Day might be seen as a political embarrassment. The White House has scheduled a breakfast with a group of Republican senators this morning to urge them to change their minds.
The bill would reverse some provisions of the deregulatory Cable Act of 1984, which has been blamed for the rapid increase in cable prices. It permits the government to oversee rates charged for "basic" cable service, and to order rollbacks when prices for other levels of service are deemed "unreasonable."
It also regulates prices for cable equipment, sets minimum customer-service standards and permits broadcasters to seek compensation from cable operators when the operator voluntarily carries the broadcasters' station.
The veto likely will be used against Bush by Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton and his running mate, Sen. Albert Gore Jr., who co-authored the Senate's version of the bill.
"George Bush has vetoed the most important consumer legislation of the year, all to protect his rich friends in the cable monopolies," Gore said while campaigning in New Mexico Saturday.
Both supporters and opponents of the legislation said Bush's lobbying efforts in Congress in recent days have put his fellow Republicans in an uncomfortable position.
With many Republicans on record supporting the bill in two votes, a change could be used against them in their re-election campaigns, they said.
Here are the highlights of actions in Congress on Saturday:
DEFENSE BILL: Congress passed and sent to President Bush by voice vote a defense authorization bill that provides a $274.3-billion Pentagon budget for fiscal 1993 and cuts more than $1-billion from Bush's request for development of the Star Wars anti-missile defense. That spending level is at just over $4-billion.
SOCIAL SPENDING: The House and Senate finished a mammoth $245-billion measure financing the operations in fiscal 1993 of the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. The measure passed on a 363-47 roll call vote. It includes $28.2-billion for education programs.
ABORTION: The House voted 220-186 to give women in the military and military dependents the right to abortion at hospitals on overseas bases _ so long as they paid for them. Bush has threatened to veto the bill.
TAX BILL: Congressional negotiators tentatively agreed Saturday on a $27-billion tax bill. They dropped two major tax-increase provisions from a tax bill to avoid a veto by President Bush.