If you got bored with Beltway politics in the first six veto-free years of the Bush administration, buckle your seatbelts -- because the ride is about to get bumpy indeed. Congress has twelve appropriations bills coming to the White House, and three-quarters of them look ripe for vetoes, as President Bush has decided to try fiscal responsibility in his last two years in office:
Addressing a Republican fundraising dinner at the Washington Convention Center on Wednesday night, President Bush declared: "If the Democrats want to test us, that's why they give the president the veto. I'm looking forward to vetoing excessive spending, and I'm looking forward to having the United States Congress support my veto." That was more than blather for a political pep rally. Bush plans to veto the homeland security appropriations bill nearing final passage, followed by vetoes of eight more money bills sent him by the Democratic-controlled Congress.
That constitutes a veto onslaught of historic proportions from a president who did not reject a single bill during his first term. Of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2008, only three will be signed by the president in the form shaped by the House. What's more, Bush correctly claimed that he has the House votes needed to sustain these vetoes. The unpopular president is taking the offensive on fiscal responsibility. After bowing to Republican demands on earmarks, Democratic leaders face a battle of the budget.
Bush refused to veto a single appropriation bill sent to him by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of his term. He threatened vetoes on a number of occasions, resulting in just enough pork-trimming to ensure his approval. After six years of profligacy, voters finally rebelled and sent Democrats to Congress instead -- apparently convinced that it would result in lower spending.
Surprise! They've turned out to be even more profligate than the Republicans. The Homeland Security bill is 14% higher than last year, thanks to the healthy dose of pork that David Obey tried mightily to hide in the conference report process. They've boosted the military construction-veterans affairs bill by 30%, but the President won't veto that one -- he doesn't want to be seen as taking money away from veterans, even though he proposed a 22% increase himself.
In fact, the only bill that the Democrats brought under the budget request was for financial services and general government. Bush plans to sign that bill and the appropriation for Congress itself. Otherwise, it will be an almost total pushback to the first Democratic Congress that Bush has had to encounter.
It's late in the game for Bush on out-of-control spending, but at least he's finally decided to fight. The battle over the budget should highlight the expansionist designs of the Democrats, who won the midterms in part over the irresponsibility of Republicans on spending. The remaining GOP caucus in the House has enough votes to uphold vetoes on spending, and they want to reinstate themselves as the good stewards of the public purse. Thanks to the Democratic overreach, they have that opportunity just five months into their minority status -- and can position themselves well for the 2008 elections.