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A Battle to Frame the Budget

September 3, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

As if Congress doesn’t have enough on their hands with Iraq and the children’s health care bill, in September they will also fight the President in a budgeting battle that has some fearing the worst: total government shutdown

The fiscal year begins on October 1st, and if neither the President nor the Democratic Congress budge from their current positions, the government will be forced to forgo all non-essential services like it did in the wake of the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton budgeting clash of ’95. A government shutdown is really only a worst-case scenario though. Three other possibilities for funding the government still remain: passing some or all of the 12 appropriations bills, combining them into a single, gigantic omnibus bill, and keeping agencies funded temporarily with a continuing resolution.

Citing excessive spending, President Bush has threatened to veto 7 of the 12 appropriations bills that Congress has proposed for funding the federal government during fiscal year ‘08. He has threatened to veto others over policy concerns. All combined, the appropriations bills exceed the President’s requested budget level by about $25 billion. It’s a modest amount when you consider that Bush is about to ask Congress for an extra $200 billion for the Iraq war, and that’s on top of the $460 billion annual defense bill.

This chart from OMBWatch shows where the appropriations bills stand right now — remember, each bill has to be passed on the floor by both chambers before going to the President for final approval:

In the chart, the bills with black boxes next to their names are the ones that President Bush has threatened to veto. Now, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has done some number crunching that reveals a strange trend. They found that, once adjusting for inflation and population growth, the bills that President Bush has threatened to veto due to “excessive spending” total less than the average s set by the Republican-led Congress’ of ’02-06. As for the bills that the President is ready to accept, they actually total much more than the ’02-06 average. Huh.

Here’s that analysis in a graph:

Since President Bush is planning to veto appropriations bills that spend less than bills he has accepted in the past, his reasons for vetoing — that they amount to “excessive spending” — need to be looked at again. The CBPP has a few other suggestions for why he is looking to veto these bills.

>The possible motivations may include a desire to make Congress look ineffective and to exert Presidential power. To override a veto, both the House and Senate must amass two-thirds “super-majorities.” Since the new majority party commands only 53 percent of the House seats and even a smaller share of Senate seats, the President can — by vetoing legislation — frustrate the policies of the new majority and strengthen claims that Congress has a poor track record of accomplishment. He also can make himself a major player despite his lame-duck status and decline in popularity. Finally, he can appeal to a conservative base that harbors strong anti-government sentiments and still resents his approval of various domestic appropriations bills in previous years.

Most likely, Congress will run out of time with these bills and be forced to pile what remains to be approved by the Senate into a single, massive omnibus bill. If that happens, Congress will be in a much weaker position than if they were able to pass the bills individually. They will have to defend their budget, which will be $20-something billion over Bush’s request, in total, instead of being able to defend the spending of individual bills on a program-by-program basis. It will also be harder for Republican lawmakers to vote to override a veto if it is against an omnibus bill. The President is politically weak these days, but his case against the excessive spending an omnibus bill may sound strong enough to side with.

After September 30th, any appropriations bills that remain vetoed or unpassed will most likely be covered by a continuing resolution that keeps agencies funded at their current level. A continuing resolution would be a capitulation for congressional Democrats — it means that their budget priorities were affectively blocked — but once the September 30th deadline has past, their only other option, a government shutdown, could be even worse for them politically. It certainly was for Newt Gingrich.

UPDATE: OMBWatch illustrates how small (relatively speaking) the difference between Congress and the President’s budgets actually is.

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  • paydayloanadvocate 10/11/2008 12:57am

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