Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Stop Us Before We Spend Again!"

Someone needs to cut up the Senate's credit cards.

Yesterday, that body added several additional spending projects to the "emergency" appropriations bill, sending the overall cost soaring to near $109 billion, making it now $17 billion over the $92.2-billion threshold (plus another $2 billion for avian-flu preparedness) Bush says he'll veto at. Bush reiterated his veto threat yesterday, saying "some here in Washington with trying to load up that bill with unnecessary spending. The Congress needs to hear me loud and clear. If they spend more than $92.2 billion plus pandemic flu emergency funds, I will veto this bill."

The Senate, once again, rolled its collective eyes and kept passing amendments. Yesterday's additions included $289 million to "compensate emergency workers who might be injured by experimental flu vaccines" (at the request of Senator Kennedy), "$1.6 billion for levees in Louisiana, $30 million for Gulf Coast election assistance and $30 million for forest projects." The LATimes adds that $37 million for levee repairs in California has also been added.

These are not emergencies. Neither is the war in Iraq, but apparently that ship has sailed. George Will's Newsweek column this week has some appropriate thoughts on these so-called emergencies: "Why are we funding Iraq, one of the longest wars in American history—by Nov. 25, 2006, it will be 1,347 days old, the number of days between Pearl Harbor and VJ Day—with 'emergency' bills? To hide, or at least obscure, the costs. Funding the war in dribs and drabs—as if the fact that the war costs money is a recurring surprise—spares Congress from confronting the huge cost and having to make room for it in the budget by shedding lower-priority spending." While I disagree with some of what Will says later in the piece, this paragraph is quite apt.

Apparently the senators now gleefully passing amendments that add to the cost of the spending bill are expecting those bits to be excised during conference with the House. At least one opponent of the extras doesn't think that'll happen: Senator McCain said yesterday "I hope it gets stripped out, but I'd be surprised."

Who knows what will happen in conference - the House negotiators might insist on trimming out the extra fat the Senate has added to this bill. I think it somewhat more likely they'll leave in most of it. And then the big question becomes, will the president veto? McCain says he has no idea: "We have never been down this path before with this administration, with a substantial, firm veto threat."

I asked a few days ago "Who'll Blink First?" So far, neither the president nor the Senate has batted an eyelash. The time is coming. While I continue to think in my own cynical way that this might be a contrived controversy in order to give Bush his first veto, I'm still not convinced he won't duck the issue rather than use the pen.


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