- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In 1995, a newly anointed Congressional majority seeking to assert its power through the federal spending process had a head-on collision with a president in desperate search for political relevance after a crushing electoral defeat. The outcome: a government shutdown.

Twelve years later, the parallels are hard to miss.

Following what he called an electoral “thumping,” President Bush drew a line in the sand on federal spending by promising to veto any spending bill exceeding his administration’s request. That decision is based in no small part on a desire to strengthen his position by threatening the frequent exercise of the presidency’s most potent legislative weapon: the veto pen.

It is also, we should hope, a sign that the president recognizes his party lost a lot of votes last November because of widespread dissatisfaction with the spending explosion that occurred under his watch.

After assuming control of Congress in January, Democrats have shown little inclination to compromise — especially with the president.

Take, for example, their unsuccessful effort to use the Iraq war supplemental funding bill as a vehicle to end America’s engagement in Iraq. From the outset, Mr. Bush promised to veto any bill with language setting an artificial timeline for withdrawal.

With full knowledge of the president’s intent, Democrats sent him a bill containing just such a timeline for withdrawal — not to mention more than $20 billion in pork-barrel spending.

Not surprisingly, the president followed through on his veto threat, and the Democrats were back to square one.

After grandstanding for more than three months on a bill they knew would be vetoed, the Democrats capitulated only when their stubbornness came perilously close to threatening the welfare of soldiers that many in their caucus voted to send to Iraq.

The entire appropriations process is shaping up to be a series of sequels based on the Iraq war supplemental story line: veto threat issued, veto threat ignored, veto threat honored, veto sustained and finally, Democratic capitulation.

But consider this: if Democrats are willing to engage in that sort of brinkmanship when soldiers’ lives are on the line, there’s no telling how far they’ll go when only bureaucrats’ salaries are on the line.

Unless Democrats can manage to stay within the more-than-generous budgetary levels outlined by the president, they will shut down the federal government later this year, or at least come very close to doing so.

The current fiscal year ends September 30. Agencies that have not been funded for the next fiscal year by that deadline will be forced to shut down unless temporary spending measures are put in place to maintain their operations.

To date, the House has completed only seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills. Five of them face near-certain vetoes — four because they exceed the president’s request by billions of dollars and another because it violates the longstanding Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for overseas abortions.

Altogether, Democrats propose an $80 billion increase in discretionary spending over the last fiscal year, which swells government expenditures 35 percent more than the president’s request.

With his approval ratings at historic lows, Mr. Bush has no reason to back down on his pledge to curb federal spending, an issue that resonates widely with the vast majority of Americans.

While the White House believes vetoing excess federal spending will improve the president’s standing with the American people, Congressional Democrats believe they will benefit from yet another attack on the president. This could very well lead to the eighteenth government shutdown in the last 30 years.

With little hope for successfully completing the annual appropriations process before the September deadline, Democrats will likely turn to continuing appropriations measures or an omnibus spending bill to keep the government running. But because of their disdain for frugality with the taxpayers’ money, these too will probably fall prey to the president’s veto.

Then, Congressional Democrats will either concede to the president’s demands for fiscal restraint or be held responsible for shutting down the federal government.

If this prediction comes to pass, Democrats could soon be in the unenviable position of defending a government shutdown just to protect billions of dollars in wasteful pork. In turn, the American people will side with the president on restraining government spending.

Most importantly, if the president holds the line on spending, American taxpayers will get the fiscal responsibility they deserve.

Last November’s election results should be seen by Republicans — and Democrats — as a clear mandate to fight tooth-and-nail against wasteful spending in Washington.

In addition to saving taxpayers billions of dollars, resurrecting the ghosts of 1995 could be exactly what Republicans need to ensure voters understand we heard them loud and clear.

It appears likely that Democrats — emboldened by their brinkmanship and burdened by their gluttony — will hand Republicans that opportunity.

Rep. Patrick McHenry is a Republican from North Carolina.

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