WASHINGTON — The House on Friday upheld President Bush's veto of a bill that would have blocked enforcement of a new rule sharply restricting abortion counseling in federally financed family planning clinics.
The 266-148 vote was 10 short of the two-thirds majority needed to override. The House vote came one day after the Senate had voted, 73 to 26, to overturn, and it kept Bush's veto record intact--he has never been overridden.
The failure to override also gave the Department of Health and Human Services a green light to demand compliance with the rule, which took effect Thursday after four years of litigation. The regulation applies to about 2,000 family planning clinics, some of which have said that they will close or refuse federal money rather than comply.
The rule has been challenged in federal courts by family planning agencies. They have requested a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the rule pending the outcome of a separate lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals here.
Bush and his supporters contend that federal funds should not be used to encourage abortion, which they insist is not a method of family planning.
"A pregnant woman has passed the point of family planning unless she wants to kill her unborn," argued Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
Opponents contend the restrictions amount to a "gag rule."
"This is about free speech. This is about basic medical care. This is about the doctor-patient relationship," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles).
The abortion counseling issue appears certain to play a role in the President's campaign for reelection. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, his Democratic opponent, has come out against the rule and also favors abortion rights.
Other developments as Congress raced toward adjournment by early next week so lawmakers can campaign for reelection:
-- Despite his strong objections to new restrictions on nuclear testing, Bush signed a $22.3-billion energy and water bill that contains $517 million for the superconducting super collider in politically critical Texas. The measure would require a nine-month moratorium on U.S. nuclear testing, strict limits on the number of tests in the next three years and an absolute testing ban after Oct. 1, 1996, unless another nation tests a nuclear device.
-- Senate Republicans killed a broad Democratic-backed anti-crime bill, including a provision to require a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases, when the Senate failed to break a threatened filibuster on the legislation. The vote to shut off debate was 55 to 43, or five votes short of the three-fifths majority needed to prevent opponents from talking a measure to death.
-- GOP senators also stopped action for this year on an education bill that included a school-choice provision endorsed by Clinton but omitted the President's plan for public aid to assist students to pay tuition at private and parochial schools. The vote to limit debate--59 to 40--fell only one vote short of preventing a threatened Republican filibuster. Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) failed to vote.
-- Senate-House conferees reached agreement on a $254-billion defense appropriations bill, earmarking $3.8 billion for President Bush's Strategic Defense Initiative, or $1.6 billion less than Bush requested for the anti-missile defense. It was expected to be approved by the Senate and House and signed by the President.
Other negotiators approved a separate $274-billion defense authorization bill Thursday. Congress' rules require that programs be authorized and then funded with separate bills.
The appropriation is $20 billion less than the authorization because it does not fund nuclear warheads and military construction. They are funded in other appropriation bills.
-- The House authorized spending--reportedly about $30 billion--for U.S. intelligence agencies for the next year. The exact amount is kept secret. The Senate was expected to approve the measure quickly and send it to the President for his signature.
-- Senate and House negotiators continued talks in hopes of reaching early agreement on the $35-billion tax and urban aid bill, but aides reported that they were still in the preliminary phase of bargaining over separate Senate and House legislation. Congressional leaders aimed for a Monday vote on the tax package before leaving town for the year.
-- Nine of 13 annual spending bills were either signed into law or awaiting Bush's signature. Congress has yet to take final action on appropriations for defense, foreign aid, the legislative branch and labor, health and human services. All were expected to be finished over the weekend and sent to the White House.
-- The House also voted along partisan lines to provide up to $1.35 million to fund the completion of a congressional investigation of allegations that Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign secretly negotiated with Iran to delay the release of American hostages from Tehran until after the November elections.