Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can Bush be Blackmailed into Bigger Spending?

Yesterday I highlighted the latest pieces from Bob Novak and Fred Barnes on the hope among Republicans in Washington that the President will help restore the party's fiscal conservative image by vetoing bloated spending bills. Roll Call says that Democrats will try to make it politically difficult:

A veto would give the majority a golden opportunity to blast Republicans for shortchanging local police, fire departments and even border security. And if Bush has a change of heart and signs the bill, Democrats say, they will be able to take credit for security upgrades that 150 Congressional Republicans voted against on the floor.

“We win if he signs it, I think they lose if he vetoes it,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “What they are simply doing is denying the Department of Homeland Security the funds necessary to protect America. We’ll certainly let their constituents know that they failed to provide the resources...”

Democrats expressed hope that Bush would reconsider the threat to veto the bill in light of his offer to add billions in emergency spending for border security as part of a deal to restart immigration legislation, but that seems highly unlikely.

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said Republicans believe they have credibility on security and can successfully wage a veto fight over the bill, which the administration feels is bloated with $2.1 billion in unnecessary spending.

“Republicans created the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans created the TSA, Republicans have had to listen to whining by the Democrats to everything we have done,” Putnam said. “There is no downside to vetoing a bill or sustaining a veto on a bill that prevents the border fence from being constructed and doubles the increase in spending beyond the president’s request.”

The party’s conservative wing has been itching for a fight.

“I would love for the president to veto this bill and take this fight to the American people,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “America needs to know the Republicans stand for accountability and fiscal responsibility.”

So on both defense spending and on immigration, the President faces threats -- implicit or explicit -- that he won't get the spending he backs increased funding in other areas. This is one area where it would be great to be able to take advantage of the 'bully pulpit,' and talk to the American people. But with the President's approval ratings where they are now, that doesn't seem to be an option.

Unless the President can rally the public to his point of view, he may be faced with a no-win situation: back higher spending across the board, or lose the spending he wants. He needs to start highlighting fiscal issues now, and start explaining why there's no need for the dramatic increases the Democrats want, and why it's unacceptable to underfund defense and border security. As long as the latter is NOT part of an effort to sell amnesty, he ought to have no problem securing the support of the conservative base for both of these efforts.

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