December 15, 2007 | Commentary on Federal Budget
The budgetary showdown between President Bush and the Democratic
Congress has entered its final, chaotic week. News reports suggest
that the president, reveling in his highest job approval rating
since April, has scored a momentous political victory.
The headlines are unequivocal: "Democrats Bow to Bush's Demands in House Spending Bill" (The Washington Post). "Dems Cave on Spending" (The Hill). "Intraparty Feuds Dog Democrats, Stall Congress" (The Wall Street Journal). "Bush, GOP Force Dems to Concede on Some Issues" (USA Today).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, suffering under an in-the-dumps 22% approval rating, have agreed to shave $22 billion off their previous demands for domestic programs. Recalcitrant House Democrats are even willing to concede on the incendiary issue of Iraq war funding -- allowing up to $70 billion to fund the troops, no "exit Iraq" strings attached.
Conservatives, however, must adopt a "trust but verify" attitude toward all this. The first reason to be wary: Never before have so many current and former appropriators served in elected leadership positions in both the House and Senate.
In the Senate, the top two Democrats, Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin, are current or former appropriators. The Republican leadership is even more appropriator-laden. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Policy Committee Chairman Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) all currently serve on the Senate's spending committee.
On the House side, the top two Democrats, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are former appropriators.
Little wonder, then, why a move by House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) to strip billions of dollars in earmark spending was, according to the Post, "shelved after a bipartisan revolt."
The unmovable anchors on behalf of real fiscal restraint these past few weeks have been those lawmakers lacking appropriations experience. The entire House Republican leadership team, led by House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo), as well as new White House Budget Director Jim Nussle, has never been exposed to the temptations of the world of appropriations. And it shows.
The next reason to remain skeptical is the time-honored Capitol Hill habit of using budget chicanery to sneak billions into spending bills. Chief among them is the practice of designating entirely predictable events (such as $100 million for security for next year's political conventions) as unanticipated "emergencies," thereby evading budget caps. Other tricks include moving the dates of receipts or expenditures from one fiscal year to another to generate artificial "savings."
The Republican Study Committee reports that "the latest Democrat omnibus package -- described as meeting the President's top-line spending amount -- is roughly $23 billion above the President's comparable request for domestic spending."
The RSC itemizes that amount as follows:
Michael Franc is vice president of government relations for The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared in Human Events