Thursday, January 15, 2004

National leaders of six conservative organizations yesterday broke with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, accusing them of spending like “drunken sailors,” and had some strong words for President Bush as well.

“The Republican Congress is spending at twice the rate as under Bill Clinton, and President Bush has yet to issue a single veto,” Paul M. Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America, said at a news briefing with the other five leaders. “I complained about profligate spending during the Clinton years but never thought I’d have to do so with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Congress.”

Warning of adverse consequences in the November elections, the leaders said the Senate must reject the latest House-passed omnibus spending bill or Mr. Bush should veto the measure.

“The whole purpose of having a Republican president is to lead the Republican Congress,” said Paul Beckner, president of Citizens for a Sound Economy, whose co-chairman is former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas. “The Constitution gives the president the power to veto legislation, and if Congress won’t act in a fiscally responsible way, the president has to step in — but he hasn’t done that.”

“If the president doesn’t take a stand on this, there’s a real chance the Republicans’ voter base will not be enthusiastic about turning out in November, no matter who the Democrats nominate,” Mr. Beckner said.

Mr. Weyrich warned that if the Senate passes the omnibus bill and the president fails to veto it, “in all probability the party’s conservative-activist core voters aren’t going to work to help win the election for Bush and the Republicans, and they may well not even vote.”

The Heritage Foundation has projected that passage of the bill would “mark the third consecutive year of massive discretionary spending growth” following increases of 13 percent and 12 percent in the previous two years.

“Congress’ continued fiscal irresponsibility is clearly exhibited in the thousands of pork projects contained in the bill,” the Heritage report noted.

The Heritage report says the omnibus bill will set the stage for discretionary spending to increase by 9 percent in 2004 to $900 billion, not the 3 percent claimed by Congress.

Asked for comment, Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie, said that while the last Clinton budget “proposed a 15 percent increase for spending unrelated to national defense, homeland security, entitlement programs and interest on the national debt,” the first Bush budget “proposed lowering this increase to 6 percent, the second budget to below 5 percent and the latest to 2 percent for next year.”

But conservative critics said that Congress opted to spend far more, and Mr. Bush didn’t move to stop it.

Mr. Bush and the Republican lawmakers are expected to face another barrage of criticism next week, this time from some 4,000 activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican congressional leaders are slated to speak.

“A lot of Senate Republicans will be speaking at CPAC, and the grass-roots conservatives attending won’t be shy about their displeasure,” said Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union.

Citizens Against Government Waste, the Club for Growth and National Taxpayers Union also joined yesterday’s conservative protest of excessive spending.

For more than a year, a rebellion in Republican ranks has been brewing over the spending issue. Conservatives, including some House Republicans, finally revolted openly over the $400 billion prescription-drug benefit passed by Congress and signed by Mr. Bush last year — which would expand the government with the largest new entitlement in a generation.

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