Novak softened Bush's false claims on Congressional spending limitsMarch 28, 2006 1:05 PM EST ››› SIMON MALOY
In his March 27 nationally syndicated column, Fox News contributor Robert D. Novak claimed that "Bush has explained that he has not vetoed any spending bills because they [Congress] generally follow his overall limits even though individual earmarks are unacceptably high" [emphasis added]. Bush, however, has stated in unqualified language that Congress has "met those targets" he has set for spending and has declared his willingness to veto "if they overspend," despite the fact that Congress has -- on at least one occasion -- exceeded Bush's limit by billions of dollars. Novak softened Bush's rationale for not using his veto power, making it seem truer than it is.
Bush has explained that he has not vetoed any spending bills because they generally follow his overall limits even though individual earmarks are unacceptably high. Accordingly, the president has dusted off the line-item veto, which would enable him to kill individual categories of spending though the Supreme Court in 1998 declared a line-item veto unconstitutional because it cut Congress out of the legislative process. Even if the new version clears its formidable legislative hurdles and actually passes, it would require positive congressional assent to each veto, which might make the whole process unworkable. [Emphasis added.]
Bush, however, has explained his rationale for not vetoing any spending bills in more explicit terms. From a January 16 press conference:
REPORTER: Mr. President, do you think you need to be more aggressive with vetoing or at least threatening to veto more spending bills this year? I mean, every year you say, I want Congress to show spending restraint; this is important for our budget and our economy. But do you think they're doing enough? Do you need to be more aggressive --
BUSH: Yes, I do think they are when they meet our budget targets. And here's the way -- let me finish, please. Here's the way it works: We sit down and say, here's what we'd like you to do. We'd like you to reduce non-security discretionary spending. We present a budget target, and they meet them. They have met those targets. And I -- and I am pleased that I've got a working relationship with the Speaker [of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL)] and [Senate Majority] Leader [Bill] Frist [R-TN] and other members of Congress to help meet those targets. Go ahead, you've got a follow-up?
REPORTER: So, essentially, then, you think everything is going fine with the budget and there's no need to use a veto or anything like that?
BUSH: Well, I'm fully prepared to use a veto if they overspend. They've got a chance now to continue to show the American people that they're willing to be -- have fiscal discipline by voting on the reconciliation package in the House of Representatives. We've still got a lot of work to do, don't get me wrong. And I'll present a -- in the process of laying out a budget that will continue to eliminate programs that don't work or that are duplicative in nature, one that says we can cut our deficit in half by 2009 and make sure the American people still get their tax relief.
As recently as March 6, then-Office of Management and Budget director Joshua B. Bolten -- who was appointed White House chief of staff on March 28, replacing the departing Andrew Card -- stated at a press conference that Congress has "lived within" Bush's limits on appropriations bills:
BOLTEN: The president hasn't vetoed an appropriations bill because he hasn't needed to. The Congress has lived within the limits that he has set on appropriations bills -- as I said, not always with exactly the mix of spending that the president has requested, often with items that the president would not have included in a bill that the administration was writing on its own.
In fact, the Bush administration's claim that Congress has adhered to Bush's spending limits is false. As Media Matters for America noted, in August 2005 Bush signed into law a $286.4 billion transportation bill, which exceeded both Bush's original limit of $256 billion for the bill and his revised limit of $284 billion. Members of Congress inserted a record 6,371 earmarks into the bill.