Bruce Bartlett

In my new book, "Impostor," I am highly critical of President Bush for failing to stand up for conservative principles. One of the main criticisms I have heard is that Republicans in Congress deserve much of the blame for out-of-control federal spending and other sins that I pin on him.

This is a valid point. But I take the view that members of Congress will always behave myopically, seeing spending that benefits their constituents as supremely virtuous even as they decry deficits and bloated budgets.

It is the president's responsibility to look out for the national interest and fight congressional myopia. His main tool for doing so is the veto, which Bush steadfastly refuses to exercise. Only Thomas Jefferson, our third president, served longer without vetoing anything. Consequently, Congress has learned that it can ignore all of Bush's veto threats, knowing they are empty.

Foreign policy realists understand that military force needs to be exercised from time to time to make diplomacy effective. It has always seemed odd to me that Bush can understand this point so clearly in the international arena, yet fail to see that the same principle applies when dealing with Congress. He has to veto something occasionally -- not just make threats -- if he expects Congress to follow his budgetary priorities.

Moreover, Bush refuses to ask Congress for any budget rescissions -- requests to cancel previously enacted spending. Nor does he use his constitutional authority to impound pork barrel spending that is not authorized by law.

The fact is that some 95 percent of so-called earmarks in the budget appear only in report language and not as line items in appropriations bills, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. The president could simply order his Cabinet secretaries to ignore them if he chose to. Instead, Bush insists that he needs line-tem veto authority to cancel earmarks, even though it would apply to just 5 percent of the total.

Still, Congress surely bears much of the blame for economic policy getting off on the wrong track. It wasn't President Bush, but then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, who said last year that there was no fat left to cut in the budget. And it is not President Bush, but Republicans in Congress, who today are talking about stupid ideas like sending out $100 "rebate" checks to offset higher gasoline costs, windfall profits taxes on oil companies and bringing lawsuits against oil-exporting countries, as if that would do any good.


Bruce Bartlett

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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