Bush the Fiscal Conservative?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 3, 2007; 12:52 PM

The three previous times President Bush vetoed a bill, he did so in public.

In July 2006 and this past June, he surrounded himself with supportive anti-abortion activists who welcomed his veto of stem-cell legislation. In May, when he vetoed legislation that would have established a timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq, he did so in a televised address that rallied his fellow Republicans.

But this morning's veto of a bipartisan bill that would have dramatically expanded children's health insurance came behind closed doors, with no fanfare or visuals.

Who, after all, would have cheered him this time?

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press that the veto was "one that some Republicans feared could carry steep risks for their party in next year's elections."

A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken last week found that 72 percent of Americans supported the legislation.

Steven Thomma and Tony Pugh write for McClatchy Newspapers: "President Bush is putting his fellow Republicans on a collision course with the American people, forcing them to choose between guns and butter. . . .

"Bush's political motive is clear: He wants to restore his party's reputation as fiscally conservative after six years of letting domestic spending grow faster than it did under Democrat Bill Clinton.

"Thus, a president who didn't veto a single spending bill in his first six years in office now vows to veto not only more spending for children's health insurance but nine other spending bills as well."

Jay Newton-Small writes for Time: "Bush's fighting words aren't just about the current battle over spending -- they are as much about his efforts to shape his legacy as a committed fiscal conservative, all prior evidence to the contrary. . . .

"With Democrats eager to tar the White House as insensitive to children, many observers think the President couldn't have picked a worse fight with which to prove his credentials. But regardless of the immediate political cost over a possible veto of SCHIP, these are fights the President welcomes in his last 16 months in office. After the largest expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society four decades ago, he is bending over backward to show committed budget hawks that he is really one of them. Earlier this week the White House went so far as to say that the President was making a stand on SCHIP because it was a 'philosophic issue.'

"For many conservatives, the near-deathbed conversion is all too unconvincing. 'We probably lost the 2006 elections because of his record on spending,' said Paul Weyrich, founder of the conservative Free Congress Foundation. . . .

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