Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting fiscal religion...

To the surprise of this observer, President Bush appears to be dead serious about vetoing more than a few funding bills. A key test will be the expansion of health insurance for children.
Bush is trying to establish that he's a fiscal conservative after overseeing a sharp rise in the deficit, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

"I think he has picked the wrong issues," Durbin said. "If he wants to fight over children's health insurance, I'm sorry but we're ready."

But Bush said lawmakers "are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they can score political points in Washington." He and his aides have threatened vetoes on several other matters as well, including House representation for the District of Columbia and subsidized insurance against terrorist acts.

Bush also has threatened to veto nine of the 12 appropriations bills that would fund the government for the fiscal year beginning October 1. [More]
Many of these vetoes are targeting bills near and dear to the farm lobby - like WRDA.

The veto threat came as the House prepared to take up the bill, loaded with $5 billion in new drinking water and wastewater treatment plants proposed by Senate and House negotiators.

"Indeed, it seems a $14 billion Senate bill went into a conference with the House's $15 billion bill and somehow a bill emerged costing approximately $20 billion," complained Rob Portman, the White House budget director, and John Paul Woodley, Jr., the Army's assistant secretary of civil works.

Because the bill's authorization now "significantly exceeds the cost of either the House or Senate bill and contains other unacceptable provisions ... the president will veto the bill," they wrote to four Senate and House members whose committees oversaw the legislation.

Congress must not increase the Army Corps' already huge backlog of $38 billion in authorized projects by adding new ones for wastewater, drinking water, sewer overflows, waterfront development, transportation and abandoned mines - all of which are "outside of and inappropriate for the mission" of the Army Corps, Portman and Woodley wrote. [More]

Given the sudden resurgence of interest in Doha negotiations, the farm bill is a prime target as well, making the imaginative new funding sources being contemplated by both the House and Senate reasons the White House can force Congress to rethink.

Most of all, the rather stunning new enthusiasm for vetoes after a total of umm, none for six years seems to have flummoxed a Congress who thought they had the upper hand after last fall's elections.

Bush is like Capt. Renault in Casablanca, who feigns shock that there is gambling in Rick's Cafe, said Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and author of Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. "He's suddenly 'shocked, shocked' to find out there's all this pork-barrel spending in these bills," Bartlett said.

Bush's veto strategy "is the only card they've really got to play if they are indeed interested in restraining government spending," says Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. That has been "an open question" in the past, he added, but now the threats are aimed at "Democratic bills."

"He dislikes Democrats more than he likes big government," Slivinski said. [More]

The veto remains an incredibly powerful tool for the executive branch - and this is an administration that's all about executive power. Recent public relations Iraq victories have reignited his famed stubbornness, it seems.

Most observers still confidently boast "Congress writes the farm bill".

Yeah - and Congress can rewrite it too.

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