In a historic first, the House has decisively overridden President Bush’s veto of a water projects spending bill. The Senate is expected to follow suit, and this will be the first time that a veto by President Bush has been overridden by Congress.
The opening salvos in the coming budget wars came with the passage of SCHIP, which the President vetoed, which veto Congress could not override. The President claims SCHIP and the water projects bill are fiscally irresponsible due to increased spending.
I think the President is looking into the fog of history and trying to repeat what he sees through the mists. Bill Clinton forced a budget showdown with the Gingrich led Republican Congress and won that battle. Bush would love nothing more than to shut down the Government in the name of fiscal conservatism because he is convinced he will win the showdown. Indeed, history normally shows that presumption to be true, and the weakened backbones displayed by the Congress hardly serves to inspire confidence in their ability to effectively face Bush down. But there is one major difference at play here which may wind up throwing a wrench into President Bush’s scheme to repeat history and win a budget showdown.
Even as he appeals for fiscal sanity, the President is demanding another $200 billion in order to carry on a widely disliked war in Iraq. The obvious tactic for Congressional leadersip is to simply point to the massive waste of money being sunk into the sands of Iraq and compare it to the pittance they are calling for in order to better the lives of ordinary Americans on the domestic scene. Actually this logic is already being used by Nancy Pelosi to good effect while ushering SCHIP through Congress.
Gingrich did not have such a case when Clinton started vetoing those spending measures. In fact Gingrich purported to be making the case for fiscal conservatism at the time, the same as Bush purports to be doing now. Yet Bush is in a much weaker position than his Presidential predecessors because of the manifest hypocricy on this issue. To wit, Republicans held the power of the purse and used that power to wrack up record deficits without one Bush veto, and his continued insistence on fully funding an unpopular war which is draining the budget at a far far greater clip than any spending programs proposed by the Democrats.
If the President is simply counting on his Republican allies in the House to blindly back him with each and every veto, the water projects over ride might provide a bit of a reality check. Most of the programs President Bush is threatening are very popular. The override of the water project veto may be the initial crack in the dam that signals a coming torrent of House Republicans, sensing an election year tidal wave of blue, and trying to disassociate themselves with the least popular President in the history of polling.
It is the President and his party who have spent like drunken sailors, and the President who insists on continuing the practice in Iraq. So, on the condition that Congressional Democrats are willing to actually take on the President, I say let him make a fool of himself by vetoing massively popular programs in the name of fiscal conservatism. Drunken sailors do not make particularly convincing economic advisors.