May 5, 2006

May 5, 2006 | WebMemo on Federal Budget

Spending Lines Firmly Drawn for a Showdown at the Veto Corral

After the President requested $92 billion in emergency supplemental spending for the war effort and additional hurricane relief, the House quickly passed his request. The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, added $14 billion in non-emergency spending unrelated to the war or hurricane relief.  The President responded with a strongly worded promise to veto the bill if spending exceeded $92.2 billion, plus $2.3 for avian flu funding, or if it contained items unrelated to his request[1]. Despite the efforts of some senators, notably Senators Coburn (R-OK) and McCain (R-AZ), to strip the bill of extra goodies, the full Senate continued to fill the legislation with more spending and wasteful earmarks. The bill finally passed the Senate with price tag of $108.9 billion. 

The Senate's lack of restraint reflects a body insulated from an American public concerned over wasteful spending and earmarks. According to a poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Americans feel "the single most important thing for Congress to accomplish this year is curtailing budgetary earmarks."[2] As the Senate prepared for a final vote, the President, in extraordinarily strong language, reiterated his commitment to veto a loaded-down bill. "The Congress needs to hear me loud and clear: If they spend more than $92 billion plus pandemic flu emergency funds, I will veto the bill," he said.

Although 35 senators signed a letter to the President vowing their support to sustain a veto, others seemed to view the veto threat as an opportunity to pile on more spending. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) noted, "I don't take [the veto threat] that seriously."  During debate on the bill, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) vowed that Congress would not be bullied into eliminating spending on such things as border security and coal mine safety or neglecting its responsibility to "provide required funds" to meet priorities. However, the $700 million "railroad to nowhere" and half a billion dollars for highway backlogs scarcely meet the priority criterion-nor does the remaining additional spending pass the emergency test. 

The most notable development that has emerged in this showdown is how successfully the President has changed the terms and expectations in the spending debate. Last year, Sen. Coburn's effort to strip the Alaska "bridge to nowhere" from the highway bill garnered few votes. Six months later, 35 senators have vowed their support to sustain a veto-it would be the first by this President-of a vital defense supplemental bill. The bill moves next to conference where the House and the Senate will hammer out their differences.  Speaker Hastert labeled the bill dead on arrival noting, "The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers." House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has vowed to hold the line on extra spending If they don't succeed, the supplemental appears headed for a showdown with the veto pen.

Alison Acosta Fraser is Director the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.



[1] Alison Acosta Fraser and Brian M. Riedl, "High Marks for Administration's Veto Line in the Sand" Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1050, April 26, 2006, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/wm1050.cfm.

[2] John Harwood, "Republicans Sag in New Poll," The Wall Street Journal, A4, April 27, 2006 at http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB114608882732936848-gRhwFtC7Ppeq83Qw_MVWEZOvqcM_20060527.html?mod=tff_article.

 

About the Author

Alison Acosta Fraser Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs
Domestic and Economic Policy