Hidden in the hundreds of pages of the president's budget are a couple of suggestions that lawmakers on the congressional appropriations committees might not smile upon.
In his budget for fiscal 2004, released last week, President Bush calls for two powers aimed at slashing spending and keeping the government running even when there is a budget impasse -- such as the one that has kept Congress from approving all the appropriations bills for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
In the first instance, Bush proposes "that the Congress correct this imbalance that favors special interest spending by providing [the president] with a constitutional line-item veto." Although the budget document acknowledges that the 1996 act giving the president line-item veto authority was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, it suggests that this proposal would be different.
"Specifically, the president proposes a line-item veto linked to deficit reduction," the document states. "This proposal would give the president the authority to reject new appropriations, new mandatory spending, or limited grants of tax benefits (to 100 or fewer beneficiaries) whenever the president determines the spending or tax benefits are not essential government priorities. All savings from the line-item veto would be used for deficit reduction."
But some members of Congress -- including Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who successfully sued to overturn the line-item veto law in 1998 -- are not eager to revisit such an issue.
And even Republican congressional leaders are a bit skeptical. "I haven't heard any serious discussion of it," said one House leadership aide, who asked not to be identified.
The second measure that the administration proposed would ensure that if Congress didn't pass one of the 13 spending bills by Oct. 1 of a new fiscal year, funding "would automatically be provided at the lower of the president's budget or the prior year's level."
"Important government functions should not be held hostage simply because Washington cannot cut through partisan strife to pass temporary funding bills," the budget document says. "In the responsible process the president envisions, there should be a back-up plan to avoid the threat of a government shutdown, although appropriations bills should still pass on time as the law requires."
That idea isn't finding much support from appropriations committee members of either party.
"It really takes away the impetus for Congress to get its work done, and it's a bad way to govern," said John Scofield, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The Senate plans to act on judicial nominations, including that of Miguel Estrada, who was nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The House plans to consider a few bills, including welfare reform legislation. Both chambers could act on the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2003 -- if lawmakers can reach a compromise.