Tuesday, November 13, 2007

President Bush's fifth veto in context

For the fifth time in his Presidency, George Bush today vetoed a bill--this time it was a $606.4 billion bipartisan bill that would have funded the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor--claiming that the "bill spends too much."

According to the President, the bill's main sin was that it spent $9.8 billion more than he originally requested. Given the large size of the bill, this amounts to less than a 2 percent difference between what the President and Congress proposed. Overall, spending would have gone up relative to last year's level by 4.3 percent; in real terms the spending increase would have been less than the total growth in the economy. So even with the higher spending under the bill, the share of economic output going to the three departments would have gone down.

The growth hardly seems irresponsible, especially when compared to the spending growth that the President green-lighted under previous Republican Congresses. In FY 2003, spending for Education, HHS, and Labor rose 8.9 percent over the previous year's level. In FY 2004, spending growth for these departments was 5.5 percent. In FY 2005, growth was 6.0 percent, and in FY 2006 (the last year for which we have final figures), growth was 10.1 percent.

Not only was growth in the proposed bill less than in previous years, but the bill followed the Democrats' "pay as you go" strategy, meaning that it included revenue increases to match the spending increases and thus wouldn't have contributed to the deficit.

There are many more pressing problems in Washington; the President should stop playing political games with these modest differences in spending bills and begin cooperating with Congress.