Bickering over the White House budget is nothing new. At the start of the Civil War, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln was criticized for overspending the amount Congress had appropriated — $20,000 — to refurbish the White House.
More recently, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee complained in 1998 about the amount of overtime that President Bill Clinton’s household staff was allegedly paid to accommodate his controversial hosting of big campaign donors for overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom.
In 2001, Democrats got upset that the Republican majority inserted a provision in a spending bill allowing private companies to donate food and beverages for events at Vice President Richard B. Cheney’s residence. They said the provision would allow big corporations to curry favor with the administration with no disclosure, a charge the GOP dismissed as foolish.
That same year, Democrats tried to pass language preventing the Bush administration from having the Navy pay the entire electricity bill for the vice president’s residence, which is on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.
In 2007, shortly after taking control of Congress, Democrats unsuccessfully sought to cut funding for Cheney’s office because of a dispute over whether the vice president was exempt from rules governing the handling of classified national security information.
Such restrictions almost never become law, and for good reason, said Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former top Democratic staff member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“If Congress really did get into making significant changes in the president’s budget, then you could have a situation where the separation of powers is really passe,” Lilly said. “You could limit the president’s ability to access advisers in a way that would destroy . . . executive powers.”
Plus, Lilly noted, the president could easily retaliate by vetoing the legislative branch spending bill, sparking an unhealthy standoff between the two sides.
And Republicans have a practical motivation to keep the White House itself in tip-top shape. After all, the next occupant could be from their own party.
“That’s not this president’s White House,” Serrano said. “It’s every president’s White House.”