All parents know that when they let children get away with something they know is wrong, the chances are good that the children will do it again and push a little further next time. Eventually, a crisis point is reached where parents must put their foot down and punish the bad behavior.
This is often traumatic because the children had been led to believe that they could get away with what they were doing. It would have been better for everyone if the parents had exercised discipline earlier.
In many ways, the president is like a parent, and Congress is the children. Especially on spending, the latter will always push for more. It is the president's job to say, "No." This always creates tension, even when the same party controls Congress and the White House, because specific spending projects often aid the re-election of particular congressmen and senators. But excessive spending is bad for the country as a whole, and Congress' allocation may not correspond to where the greatest need is. It is the president's job to look at the big picture and set national priorities.
Unfortunately, up until now President Bush has been like an overindulgent parent who has let her child get away with too much for too long. By not vetoing any bills and signing many that were far over budget, often stuffed with blatant pork-barrel provisions, he has set up a confrontation with Congress over the pending transportation bill. Bush wants one that spends no more than $256 billion over 6 years. But the Senate wants $318 billion, and the House of Representatives is pushing a $375 billion bill. Bush has promised to veto a bill that is more than $256 billion.
Many observers believe that the chances of a veto are very small due to the employment situation. The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, predicts flatly that Bush will cave on his veto threat and sign whatever Congress sends him because new construction spending for highways and bridges will create 1.6 million jobs, "something that the president needs to stem Democratic attacks on national unemployment figures."
I think there is the chance of a veto, purely for show, but the final legislation unquestionably will be well above $256 billion. The Hill is right. It will make good stump speech material. Bush will be able to promise some new public works project at every campaign stop. Plus, he will be under inexorable pressure from his own party to support projects that will help elect congressional Republicans. They, too, will want to bring home the bacon for Election Day.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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