September 6, 2001
By Phillip N. Truluck
It's hard to sympathize, though, when you consider the fact that
the nine spending bills passed by the House of Representatives so
far are loaded with a record amount of "pork" projects that
threatens to erase whatever's left of this year's surplus.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration seems unnecessarily ready
to accept this fact. A high-ranking White House official opined
before the recess that pork, alas, is "an acceptable cost of doing
business with Congress."
The phrase sounds uncomfortably similar to that used by big-city
contractors to justify the practice of greasing the palms of
corrupt zoning officials, building inspectors and union officers to
get approval of legitimate construction projects. Does President
Bush have no choice but to negotiate from the wrong end of a pork
It's certainly an expensive way to do business. House members
have salted fiscal year 2002 spending bills with nearly 19,000
in-district projects worth a combined $280 billion -- both new
records. We're talking about two out of every five dollars they
have under their control.
President Bush can't let this pork-packed spending stand if he
wants to bring the federal budget under control. Early on, he laid
down his budget marker: a 4 percent overall increase in
discretionary spending. Though only half the rate of spending hikes
pushed through in President Clinton's last year in office, it's
still a generous offer.
But Congress so far has shown itself unable to live within these
bounds -- which is why it's time for President Bush to drop his
"compromise and accommodate" strategy and pick up his veto pen.
Given all the murmuring from some
lawmakers about the need to roll back the president's prized tax
cut, the president should throw down the gauntlet and announce his
intention to veto all spending bills that surpass the spending
target. And he must follow through. The promise to veto pork-filled
spending bills must be as firm and as committed as the promise to
Sure, the big spenders will be quick to deplore the shift. But a
veto strategy is neither a sign of partisanship (pork knows no
party) nor one of weakness. Far from being a "negative" approach to
governing, it's a sign of strong, effective leadership.
History shows the most successful and respected presidents
haven't been shy in using the veto. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for
example, was a great devotee of the veto strategy and used it quite
successfully to bring the legislative branch to heel when he felt
it was straying too far from his policies. He is quoted as saying,
when having problems with Congress: "Find me a bill I can
During his years as president,
Roosevelt averaged 48 vetoes per year. By way of comparison, the
first President Bush issued 44 vetoes throughout his four-year
term. President Clinton vetoed only 37 bills during his two
Interestingly, the presidents historians frequently rank as
America's greatest were generally those most willing to use the
veto. Perhaps this is because the veto is a powerful tool, well
suited for an activist president. It is a remarkably successful
tool, too: Only 4 percent of all presidential vetoes -- going all
the way back to George Washington -- have been overridden by
Congress. And President Bush would seem to have enough votes in
Congress to use his veto pen with great authority.
The president's willingness to use every tool at his disposal to
control federal spending becomes more and more critical with every
projection of a dwindling budget surplus. The Congressional Budget
Office recently trimmed its estimate of this year's budget surplus
from the $200 billion it had projected in June to $153 billion.
That's why every dollar wasted in pork-barrel spending looms
large. The more the big spenders can drive up spending (and drive
down the surplus), the more "evidence" they amass to demonstrate
the "need" to roll back tax relief.
Excessive spending can lead to only two possible outcomes: a
resumption of federal deficits or an economically debilitating tax
hike. Neither is acceptable. So dust off that box of pens, Mr.
President, and start vetoing.
Truluck is the chief operating officer of The Heritage
Foundation (www.heritage.org), a
Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed Nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune Wire
Dust Off That Veto Pen
Phillip N. Truluck
Chairman, Society of Emeritus Trustees
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