- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Well, here we are in mid-November, and Congress has passed only four of the 13 appropriations bills for fiscal 2005, which began Oct. 1.

Before leaving town to campaign, the Republican-controlled Senate hadn’t even begun debating seven of the appropriations bills. Worse, as senators returned to “work” this week, they were officially seven months delinquent in adopting the congressional budget resolution. The GOP-controlled Senate’s failure to meet this bare-minimum statutory requirement — and the unlikelihood that it will bother to do so during the lame-duck session — could force Republicans in the House to cast an up-or-down vote to increase the national-debt limit.

Such votes are avoided like the plague, and the House will probably manage a way to circumvent a clean debt-limit vote. But an up-or-down vote, followed by the president’s signature, would be due justice for the complicity of both the White House and the Congress in the recent spending binges, which have contributed to the need to raise the debt limit.

At his post-election news conference on Nov. 4, President Bush declared, “I thought I was pretty clear about the need for those [spending] bills to be fiscally responsible, and I meant it.” Surely the president can afford to spend the tiny amount of political capital it would require to force Congress to meet its overall target of $822 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2005. That key figure excludes the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for 2005, so the goal is pretty explicit and stationary. If Congress fails to meet the president’s standard for being “fiscally responsible,” then a veto should be the first order of business in pursuit of his electoral mandate.

Frankly, with American soldiers either fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or preparing to return to those war zones, limiting 2005 discretionary spending unrelated to those campaigns to $822 billion will hardly qualify as a profile in courage. The task at hand essentially amounts to ratifying the spending binges of recent Congresses, which have raised inflation-adjusted non-defense discretionary spending by more than 35 percent over the past five years.

Budgeting is supposed to be about choices and priorities. When Ronald Reagan began his Cold War military build-up, for example, inflation-adjusted nondefense discretionary spending was reduced from $295 billion in 1980 (measured in constant 2000 dollars) to $238 billion by 1987. When Republicans captured control of Congress 10 years ago, inflation-adjusted nondefense discretionary spending was initially reduced and then virtually frozen over the next three years. So there are recent precedents for exercising fiscal discipline. Let the deed commence.

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