- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

After spending the first 15 months of his administration signing bills, President Bush has finally gotten around using the v-word. In a speech delivered recently and appropriately enough before the Fiscal Responsibility Coalition, Mr. Bush threatened to veto appropriations bills that exceeded his overall discretionary spending limit, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated to be $759 billion for fiscal 2003. "We must not repeat the mistake in the 1960s, when increased spending required by war was not balanced by slower spending in the rest of government," the president declared, adding, "I've got a tool, and that's called a veto."
That reason is simple enough. After he inherited a military that the previous administration had underfunded for years, Mr. Bush's job as commander in chief was further compounded less than eight months later by the September 11 terrorist attack. The inventory of the laser- and satellite-guided smart weapons barely lasted through the relatively low-level military response in Afghanistan. The depleted inventory of smart weapons isn't expected to be replenished before September, if by then. That would make any military decision involving Saddam Hussein or other member of the axis of evil essentially mute before then, irrespective of any further provocation. In itself that is a sad commentary on the military means of the world's only superpower. Far worse, of course, are the already generally imponderable costs that could easily and rapidly escalate once any shooting actually starts. In that case, all bets are off. That is precisely why Mr. Bush must enforce his warning about repeating the mistakes of the 1960s by carrying out his overdue threat to veto bloated spending bills unrelated to national defense.
Already, unfortunately, Congress has failed to meet its April 15 statutory deadline for passing a budget resolution, a fiscal failure directly attributed to the fact that the Democratic-controlled Senate, unlike the Republican-controlled House, has not passed its budget blueprint. Moreover, no resolution in the Senate is forseeable. That means the appropriations process is about to begin without overall spending limits having been established. It will be the first time in years that has happened. As the past has amply demonstrated, members of Congress routinely exceed budget resolutions that have been passed in a timely manner. Without even the admittedly frequently ignored constraints embodied in a budget resolution, it is anybody's guess how this year's feeding frenzy will take place in the absence of a resolution.
To get the attention of Congress, Mr. Bush may not have to wait for the first of 13 fiscal 2003 appropriations bills to reach his desk. Before then, Congress will act on the mostly defense-related $27.1 billion supplemental spending bill for the current fiscal year that the White House recently submitted. The president should put Congress on notice now that he will not tolerate Congress's customary practice of adding billions of dollars of pork to an emergency spending measure. If Congress refuses to comply, the president must issue his first veto. With the nation at war, Congress must prioritize its spending decisions. And Mr. Bush must use his veto pen to ensure that those priorities are the right ones.



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