Bush Cautions Democrats on Spending
Sunday, June 17, 2007
CRAWFORD, Tex., June 16 -- Even while trying to reach out to Democrats to fashion a new immigration bill, President Bush lashed out at the opposition party Saturday for its budget policies and served notice once again that he plans to veto bills with "excessive spending."
In his weekly radio address, Bush said the Democrats' "tax and spend" approach is endangering economic growth and budget-balancing efforts. "They've passed a budget that would mean higher taxes for American families and job creators, ignore the need for entitlement reform, and pile on hundreds of billions of dollars in new government spending over the next five years," Bush said.
The address was another signal that Bush and Congress are headed toward a battle over spending this fall, as lawmakers begin moving through the 12 annual spending bills funding federal agencies and programs. Bush is trying to hold discretionary spending to no more than $933 billion for the coming fiscal year -- roughly $60 billion more than the current year -- but Democrats in Congress are pushing for an additional $23 billion for domestic programs.
When the Republicans were in charge on Capitol Hill, Bush was less fastidious about policing spending, deferring to Republican leaders on the appropriations bills. But with Democrats in charge, Bush has begun threatening to use a veto pen he has used only twice, on a stem cell measure and an emergency Iraq spending bill that included a withdrawal timeline.
Democrats criticized Bush's threat as irresponsible. "Democrats have crafted bipartisan funding bills that make modest but critical increases in priority investments like education and health care," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said in a statement released by his office. "The increases are equivalent to what President Bush spends in two months in Iraq. The President should join Democrats in investing in America's future and sign these bills into law."
Bush and his top aides see a confrontation over spending as substantively and politically in their interest, despite their efforts to woo Democrats on issues such as immigration, trade and energy. One major attraction is that House Republicans are spoiling for a fight, with many conservatives grumbling over the spending authorized during the first six years of Bush's presidency on farm subsidies, a new drug benefit for Medicare recipients and other domestic programs. Bush met Thursday at the White House with GOP members of the Appropriations Committee to discuss the coming spending fight.
Democrats appear confident that they are pushing underfunded domestic priorities that have widespread appeal with American voters. On Friday, the House passed, with only two votes against, a bill that would exceed Bush's request for veterans programs by 7 percent.
Aware that it does not have the votes to sustain a veto, the White House has indicated that Bush would sign the bill but would veto other spending bills if Congress does not find cuts to compensate for the extra spending. And it said Bush would veto another bill approved by the House on Friday, a $37.4 billion funding bill for homeland security that also exceeded the president's request.
In this case, Republicans rallied 150 lawmakers against the bill, enough to sustain a veto, and 147 House Republicans have signed a petition promising to uphold Bush vetoes over excessive spending.
Bush alluded to that pledge in his radio address Saturday, noting that he is "not alone" and has enough votes "to sustain my veto of any bills that spend too much."
The president also weighed in on earmarks, special projects inserted by lawmakers into spending bills. Earmarks were the subject of intense debate on the House floor last week, with Democratic and Republican leaders finally agreeing on a plan that would allow votes on such pet projects.
This was another subject on which Bush gave deference to GOP leaders when they were in control of Congress. But on Saturday he sought to draw distinctions with the Democratic leadership, saying voters must hold the Democrats accountable for their promise to list earmarks and give lawmakers a chance to strike them.
"In the weeks ahead, my administration will continue pushing for earmark reform and holding the line on federal spending," Bush said. "The American people do not want to return to the days of tax-and-spend policies. They expect accountability and fiscal discipline in Washington, D.C."
Bush is spending the Father's Day weekend at his ranch here with his wife, Laura, family friends and one of his two daughters, Jenna.