Bush warns Democrats on stale­mate, bills that he’d veto

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Pres­i­dent Bush on Jan. 3 re­asserted his role in do­mes­tic pol­icy as the spen­der in chief and ul­ti­mate leg­isla­tive back­stop, urg­ing Democrats to cut pork-bar­rel spend­ing in half and telling them they will take the blame for stale­mate if they send him bills he has to veto.

His warn­ing came the day be­fore Democrats take con­trol of Congress, where they al­ready have taken the first steps to con­sol­i­date their power and push through their own lob­by­ing and ethics changes, new bud­get rules and an in­crease in the min­i­mum wage.

In both a pub­lished col­umn and in a state­ment he made af­ter his first Cabi­net meet­ing of the year, the pres­i­dent tried to get out ahead of Democrats by set­ting spend­ing goals and promis­ing co­op­er­a­tion — to a point.

“If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are sim­ply po­lit­i­cal state­ments, they will have cho­sen stale­mate. If a dif­fer­ent approach is taken, the next two years can be fruit­ful ones for our na­tion,” Mr. Bush said in the Wall Street Jour­nal col­umn.

And in his Rose Gar­den re­marks he vowed to in­tro­duce a bud­get next month that will elim­i­nate the deficit by 2012, and chal­lenged Congress to fol­low “one im­por­tant mes­sage” vot­ers sent in last year’s elec­tions by end­ing se­cret ear­marks, or pork-bar­rel spend­ing.

But he al­ready has run afoul of Demo­cratic lead­ers in the House, who said the pres­i­dent is mak­ing an ex­ec­u­tive branch power play and ar­gued he doesn’t have cred­i­bil­ity on spend­ing is­sues.

“Given the track record of this ad­min­is­tra­tion, the last per­son in the uni­verse who should lec­ture the Congress on fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity is Ge­orge Bush,” said Rep. David R. Obey, the Wis­con­sin De- mo­crat who will be­come chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

Mr. Bush has in­creased the an­nual fed­eral bud­get by $800 bil­lion, from $1.86 tril­lion in 2001 to $2.65 tril­lion in 2006, and has rung up deficits ev­ery year from 2002 to 2006.

In­com­ing House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Mr. Bush ac­tu­ally wants to elim­i­nate ear­marks al­to­gether, and said that and the pres­i­dent’s de­sire for a line-item veto are part of Mr. Bush’s push to con­trol the power of Congress.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken unto it­self in­creas­ing ex­ec­u­tive author­ity, and we be­lieve that the Congress has failed in its re­spon­si­bil­ity to ex­er­cise its du­ties un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion,” the Mary­land Demo­crat said.

But Mr. Hoyer also said Mr. Bush is “right in con­cept” when he warned against try­ing to pass bills Democrats know won’t be signed by the pres­i­dent.

Al­though both the House and Se­nate will be un­der Democrats’ con­trol, House Democrats have pushed their agenda the fur­thest, aided by rules that give the ma­jor­ity party in that cham­ber nearly un­fet­tered power.

Two of the mea­sures they have vowed to pass in the first 100 hours of leg­isla­tive busi­ness run counter to Mr. Bush’s stated po­si­tions, and one — to ex­pand fed­eral fund­ing for stem-cell re­search — drew the first veto of Mr. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion when it passed last year.

The other mea­sure, to raise the min­i­mum wage to $7.25 an hour, has Mr. Bush’s sup­port but only if it is cou­pled with tax or reg­u­la­tory breaks for busi­nesses to off­set the costs. House Democrats are in­sist­ing on pass­ing a “clean” bill that doesn’t in­clude those off­sets.

And Mr. Bush is run­ning into prob­lems even among some Repub­li­cans.

On Jan. 3 Rep. Michael N. Cas­tle of Delaware, who is a lead­ing voice among more lib­eral Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, said Mr. Bush must present a “re­al­is­tic” bud­get that pro­vides enough for ed­u­ca­tion and health care spend­ing as well as for de­fense.

He also said fu­ture tax cuts must be off­set by spend­ing cuts else­where in the bud­get.

“A one-sided equa­tion does not get us back into the black,” Mr. Cas­tle said.

As Mr. Bush was ask­ing to work with Democrats, the White House sent its strong­est mes­sage since the elec­tion that the pres­i­dent stands by his push for private sav­ings ac­counts as part of So­cial Se­cu­rity — anath­ema to most Democrats — and that he op­poses tax in­creases to help fi­nance the sys­tem.

“The pres­i­dent has made it clear he doesn’t want tax in­creases and he wants sav­ings ac­counts,” White House press sec­re­tary Tony Snow said, though he said Mr. Bush will lis­ten to any pro­posal for re­form­ing en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing.

Mr. Snow’s state­ment came af­ter re­ports in De­cem­ber that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials had sig­naled the pres­i­dent would con­sider some form of tax in­creases to pay for a So­cial Se­cu­rity over­haul.

Mean­while, Mr. Bush laid out a set of re­quire­ments he wants to see for fu­ture ear­mark spend­ing. He called for Democrats to adopt rules re­quir­ing dis­clo­sure of ev­ery ear­mark’s spon­sor, its cost, who the re­cip­i­ents are, and why the spend­ing is jus­ti­fied.

He also told Democrats to “cut the num­ber and cost of ear­marks next year by at least half.”

Mr. Bush did not say what those tar­get num­bers should be, and ear­marks are of­ten in the eye of the be­holder.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Repub­li­can, cit­ing a Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port, said fis­cal 2006 spend­ing bills con­tained 12,852 ear­marks with a value of more than $67 bil­lion. But Cit­i­zens Against Gov­ern­ment Waste put the 2006 fig­ures at 9,963 projects and $29 bil­lion.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Bush walks out of the Oval Of­fice to the Rose Gar­den of the White House on Jan. 3 fol­low­ing a meet­ing with mem­bers of his Cabi­net.

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