- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

The budget battle this election year appears headed toward a political stalemate where the only winner may be increased pork-barrel spending.
The Republican-led House has passed its appropriations bills, but it has run into stiff opposition in the Senate, where Democrats are pushing for higher spending levels at least $13 billion more at this point.
That may not sound like much in a $2 trillion budget, but senior White House officials say it would push up spending levels by $200 billion over the next 10 years.
President Bush has leveled periodic veto warnings about holding the line on spending, but it is doubtful whether he will get the opportunity to veto anything because outside of the defense bill there is little chance that any appropriations bills will reach his desk before Congress adjourns for the November elections.
The result is likely to be a massive, end-of-session, omnibus bill to keep spending at agreed-upon levels, and administration officials say that may be the best outcome in a situation where gridlock rules. "Any stopgap bill that ends up saving money and not spending more is welcome," said an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"Congress has not passed a single appropriations bill. It's mostly because the Senate continues to hold out for higher spending. The scorecard is 0-for-13. It looks like they will pass a continuing resolution for the year," said Trent Duffy, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Blocking the higher appropriations levels that Senate Democrats want would be a victory of sorts for the administration, but it also would mean that cuts it proposed elsewhere in the budget would not be realized.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, had plans to make domestic spending and the deficit major campaign issues. But the war on terrorism and the debate over action against Iraq have pushed those issues to the back burner.
Mr. Daschle attempted to raise them again Wednesday in a speech blaming the Republican Party and the administration for the return of budget deficits, producing "this atrocious record" on the economy.
OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. called Mr. Daschle's remarks "a disappointing performance. I'm tempted to say tantrum."
"I've heard a lot of talk but seen no action. Tom Daschle has no agenda, no budget and no [appropriations] bills," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
The fight, as always, is over money. House Republicans set discretionary spending for the coming fiscal year at $759 billion. The Senate wants to boost that to $772 billion, a level the administration opposes. That has led to a fiscal stalemate with just a few weeks remaining before Congress leaves town to campaign for the midterm elections.
Mr. Bush, in the absence of any appropriations bills, has been unable to use his veto. But he has been able to stop some spending increases this year.
When Congress sent him a $28 billion emergency spending bill earlier this year for homeland defense and the war on terrorism, it added $5.1 billion in pork-barrel spending requests with the proviso that he had to spend all of it or none of it. Mr. Bush chose not to spend any of it.
Even so, spending critics say that outside of needed spending increases for defense, owing to domestic security concerns and the terrorism war, discretionary spending has been rising too fast.
"Congress is in the midst of an unprecedented spending binge. Since 1998, discretionary spending has increased on average by nearly 7 percent every year, growth unseen since the late 1960s," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican.
The one constant in the appropriations process is pork-barrel spending, and the House and Senate bills are filled with it, say the critics.
"The president has already proposed to boost non-defense, discretionary spending twice as high as inflation, but too many members of Congress are putting our economic recovery at risk by larding appropriations bills with election-year pork," said Eric Schlecht, director of congressional relations for the National Taxpayers Union.
Citizens Against Government Waste, which tracks pork-barrel spending, says it is worse this year.
For example, "this year's agriculture bills are ripe with pork. The House and Senate versions together contain 256 projects totaling $246.4 million that were not requested in the president's budget or that carried a price tag greatly exceeding the president's request," CAGW said in a recent report.
"We haven't even seen the 11th-hour spending spree that always occurs before they leave for the elections, so we can anticipate $10 billion to $20 billion in election pork," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth.


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