Originally created 07/20/02

Does Bush mean it?



The nation is looking at $165 billion in red ink by the end of the fiscal year - the first deficit in four years. Tax revenues are off sharply, not because of the income tax cuts as Democrats claim, but because of a steep falloff in taxes on capital gains due to the plummeting stock market.

Meanwhile, Congress is turning President Bush's supplemental spending bill to fight terrorism into Christmas in July. The president asked for $27 billion and he'll get up to $31.5 billion which, reports The Wall Street Journal, includes such terrorist-fighting programs as $2 million for the Smithsonian's worm collection.

So now the president says he'll be getting tough on spending. Nice words to hear, but they've been heard before. What spending critics are looking for is a presidential follow-through.

In fact, if the president's 10-year tax cut program is responsible for the deficit, it's not because of its $1.35 trillion size, but because of the spending concessions he had to make in the farm, defense and other bills to get Congress to OK the cuts.

It's too late to do anything about those spending bills, but there's still time to get the anti-terror bill and other appropriation measures under control before the end of the year.

First, Bush has to convince Congress that he's serious about reining in the big spenders who, by the way, are not just Democrats. Many are Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Second, the president will have to scale back his own 2003 budget plans which call for a 10 percent increase in spending. According to his budget director, Mitch Daniels, the country can't sustain even 7 percent increases in the budget each year.

Third, he'll probably need to adopt a veto strategy, especially if Congress' emergency anti-terrorism bill goes over what he requested. The difference between $27 billion and $31 billion isn't that great in a trillion dollar-plus budget, but vetoing that bill would send a powerful signal about how he'll deal later in the year with the other appropriation bills.

But with big spending a powerful bipartisan force, could the president make his vetoes stick? The answer is yes - he's already got signed commitments from enough "slow-the-spending" House members to uphold any veto. Republican signers don't want to buck the White House and Democrats, who've been campaigning against deficits, can't afford to be labeled the tax-and-spend party again.

Hence, the president can curb the big spenders if he wants. The question is, does he have the will?