Bush's Veto Threat on Spending Bills an Abrupt Change

By Jeff Golimowski | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

Washington (CNSNews.com) - President Bush is threatening to veto a host of appropriations bills passed by Congress which contain "excessive levels of spending," but an examination of the president's track record with appropriations bills reveals that those vetoes would be a radical change in direction.

Specifically, Bush has indicated that he will veto any bills which come across his desk authorizing more money than he requested.

Yet Cybercast News Service has established that since the beginning of his first term, Bush has approved at least 45 instances where Congress provided more money than he requested.

The investigation focused specifically on discretionary funding requested annually by the president. Cybercast News Service was able to use the White House's own budget reports to obtain comparative data by subcommittee or by individual agency for every year of Bush's term except for 2003 (for which no comparable data was available).

The federal budget contains many estimates, which means the actual number could be higher than the 45 instances identified.

Budget experts, such as Adam Hughes of OMB Watch, a non-partisan watchdog group that monitors the Federal Office of Management and Budget, said the analysis is accurate and fair and that it highlights Bush's about-face on the issue.

"This president has never cared about fiscal responsibility until he feels like it can benefit him politically," he said.

Hughes wasn't surprised at Cybercast News Service's findings. But he is surprised at Bush's new fiscally hawkish persona.

"His administration has seen the national debt go from six trillion dollars to nine trillion dollars," said Hughes. "Where was his fiscal responsibility when he came into office? Why has that been his legacy that the debt increased by a third?"

White House officials dismiss the criticism, saying the rules of the game have changed since Democrats took over both houses of Congress in 2006.

"It's been made clear that the new Democratic majority is pretty intent on increasing spending and also raising taxes on Americans," said Sean Kevelighan of the White House Budget Office. "That's something the president feels very strongly about ... we're working toward more fiscal responsibility."

Kevelighan explained the absence of previous vetoes by citing the president's close working relationship with the Republican congressional leadership during the first six years of his administration. He said Bush has always been in favor of fiscal discipline.

"The leadership in Congress had made a commitment to the administration to work together," said Kevelighan. "There did not need to be such a hard line presented in a public fashion."

The Republican Party is lining up to support his veto threat. Over 100 GOP lawmakers signed a letter delivered to the president Wednesday afternoon, pledging to shoot down any attempt to override his promised veto.

House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) press secretary, Brian Kennedy, lashed out at congressional Democrats

"When you look at the big picture since Democrats have taken control ... they've crafted a budget that not only includes the largest tax increase in American history," Kennedy told Cybercast News Service Wednesday. "They're also doing nothing to hold the line on discretionary spending."

Budget watchers, however, aren't buying it. Experts at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute say Bush has done next to nothing to stop discretionary spending in the first six years of his term and is only doing so now for political expediency.

"He's saying 'I only dislike big spending if it's Democratic big spending,'" said Cato Director of Budget Studies Steve Slivinski. "The main motivation for these veto threats is not that [the bills] are too expensive, it's that they're Democratic bills."

Slivinski, who has studied every budget cycle since the mid 1960s, said the 2008 appropriations bills causing the controversy "don't look a lot different than the Republican bills" proposed in every other year of Bush's term.

Although the spending may be directed toward different areas, the actual dollar and growth figures aren't significantly different. Instead, Slivinski said, the debate - and the veto threat - highlights the political nature of the budget process.

"I don't think it really matters in the end except that it gums up the works legislatively," he said.

Slivinski and OMBWatch's Hughes believe the debate will be resolved with, at the very least, a continuing resolution to keep the government going, as neither Congress nor the president wants to risk a government shutdown. Boehner's spokesman told Cybercast News Service he thinks an omnibus continuing funding resolution is "inevitable."

Slivinski characterized the veto threat as a piece of political theater.

"I'm not so sure it's really a theater performance that anyone would buy tickets to go and see," he said. "It's more like a summer rerun."

(CNSNews.com Correspondent Katherine Poythress contributed to this report)

See Related Story:
GOP 2008 Candidates Stake Claims as Fiscal Hawks (June 21, 2007)

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