President Bush, who did not veto a single bill passed by the Congress during his first term in office, now has changed his tune and threatens to veto any measure that does not measure up to what he says is his battle against bigger government and higher federal spending. In line with this thinking, on Nov. 13 he vetoed a bill that would have financed a total of $150.7 billion in domestic spending for education, health care, job training and other lesser programs.
In defending his veto, Bush said the measure included more than 2,200 earmarks for favorite projects of lawmakers. He called for Congress to "cut out the pork" and reduce the spending so that he could approve the measure. Of course, he did not refer to the numerous bills passed by the Republican controlled Congress that were loaded with earmarks.
The same day Bush vetoed the domestic spending bill, he signed the Defense Department appropriations bill providing $459 billion for military programs in the upcoming fiscal year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, commenting on the veto, said, "President Bush is in no position to lecture Congress about fiscal responsibility."
Of course, what is happening is that the president and congressional Republicans are trying to reestablish the party's reputation for fiscal responsibility. I cannot fault Bush for trying to keep federal spending under control, but he should be honest with Americans by admitting that his administration has been most irresponsible in that policy. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq has been enormously expensive and he has not taken the needed diplomatic steps to seek an end to it. He has never vetoed any war spending measure and that incursion has been most responsible for the growing national debt under his administration. In addition, the more than $60 billion in tax cuts that he has strongly supported have added to the problem.
Like most of his predecessors in the presidency, Bush continues to be optimistic about the American economy despite the numerous negative factors now coming into play. He recently praised the economy as being resilient and reminding Americans that it had bounced back after the attacks of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
However, some economists now believe that the economy's stamina may have hit its limit. They cite soaring oil prices, a meltdown in housing and mortgage lending and an ever-increasing drop in consumer confidence to reinforce their pessimism. Oil prices have soared some 50 percent in the last year, negatively influencing consumer spending, and housing construction is in the midst of its biggest contraction since the end of World War II. Unlike what occurred in the past, a drop in housing prices has accompanied the decline in construction and interest rate increases in the mortgage markets. Consumer confidence, according to independent surveys, has dropped to a two-year low. All of these negative signs point to trouble that Bush ignores in his remarks.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress recently that the economy would slow noticeably by the end of the year and remain sluggish for the first part of 2008. The housing market, he added, has yet to hit bottom. None of these signs is an indicator of the resilient economy Bush talks about at every opportunity.
Although I tend to be a pessimist, I remain optimistic that the United States will bounce back and regain the momentum it needs to create a prosperous nation. I also hope that the new incoming president would act to rectify some of the poor policies of George W. Bush, particularly those that have undermined the constitutional guarantees we all cherish.
Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News