- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

With Democrats gaining control of the Senate and given Congress seemingly innate inclination to ignore spending discipline in general and spending targets in particular, a veritable spending free-for-all reminiscent of the binges in the Clinton years cannot be ruled out. Indeed, the early signs on the appropriations front are not encouraging.
The Appropriations Committee in the House, which is still controlled by Republicans, recently passed a funding bill for the Interior Department that exceeded President Bushs request by more than $800 million. Weatherization and state energy grants, for example, will increase by $120 million in fiscal 2001, or by 63 percent. Justifying such an increase by arguing that energy prices had increased and would likely remain high for some time, the committee then inexplicably and irresponsibly eliminated a relatively paltry $2 million item the administration requested to study energy exploration in the oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The same Republican-controlled committee also disregarded the presidents recommendation to eliminate hundreds of pork-laden "agricultural research" projects, which legislators routinely earmark for the benefit of their home-state universities. Instead of saving as much as $150 million by eliminating such pork, the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture will exceed Mr. Bushs budget request by $104 million for the Agricultural Research Service and by $124 million for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. While the agricultural appropriations bill nominally purports to spend less in 2002 than in 2001, the safest bet in Washington is that Congress next year will pass the perennial agricultural "emergency" bill for supplemental funding in fiscal 2002. A third appropriations bill, which will fund the traditionally pork-infested water and energy projects, already tops the presidents budget request by $1.2 billion.
Meanwhile, the reauthorizing legislation for federal education policy, which is currently working its way through the Senate, has massively increased education spending. Among other things, the Senate intends to raise funding for special education by an additional $181 billion over 10 years. Now, special education happens to be a program that cries out for reform. Instead, it will likely receive what amounts to a blank check.
To enforce budgetary discipline, Mr. Bush must restore the presidential practice of vetoing bills that spend too much. To this end, Mitch Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, recently attempted to cajole Congress into "passing an orderly stream of bills totaling no more than the $661 billion for which Congress voted, plus any defense increase on which the parties eventually agree and funding for any genuine emergencies" in contrast to the phony ones of recent vintage "that might occur." Without directly mentioning the word "veto," Mr. Daniels then issued a clear warning, reminding legislators that "the president retains the ultimate tool for preserving restraint." Chances are good that Mr. Bush will have to exercise the "ultimate tool" before Congress gets the message.

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