Bush: Congress stuffed spending bill with wasteful projects

US president says $555b. measure contains some 9,800 projects usually benefiting only one state or congressional district.

Bush White House 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush White House 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush complained in a year-end news conference Thursday that the US Congress had stuffed a spending bill with hundreds of projects that he called wasteful and instructed his budget director to explore options for dealing with them. Bush said that a $555 billion measure passed by Democratic-led Congress Wednesday night before breaking for the holidays contains some 9,800 in so-called "earmarks," or projects usually benefiting only one state or congressional district. "So I am instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill," Bush said. However, without holding line-item-veto powers, Bush's ability to block spending on specific projects appears limited. Presidential authority to strike, or veto, individual projects and other spending items from appropriations bills was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1998. The budget battle capped a year of tension between the Republican Bush administration and Democrats who took control of both chambers of Congress in January after winning the 2006 elections. Bush has maneuvered the Democrats adroitly on Iraq and other subjects dear to Democratic voters, such as extending health insurance for poor children and providing help to family planning groups abroad that approve abortion. His weapon has been a unique Senate rule that requires 60 of the 100 senators to overturn a presidential veto; the Democrats' Senate majority is 51-49, including two independents who normally but not always vote with the Democrats. In the House of Representatives, Democrats have an easier time passing legislation because they hold a 233-202 majority but it takes a two-thirds majority in the House to overturn a Bush veto and most Republicans have sided with Bush. Wednesday's spending vote reflected the reluctance by each party to deny money to US troops in the field. At the same time, anti-war Democrats had found their position weakened by the decline in violence in Iraq. The president did praise Congress for sending him "a spending bill to fund the day to day operations of the federal government. They passed this bill without raising taxes." But he complained that the measure was done so late in the year that it could slow the processing of tax returns to millions of Americans. He said his administration would "work hard to minimize" such a delay. Bush, who has largely refused to comment on the 2008 US presidential campaign, did bite when asked about what it takes to be president. "You can't be the president unless you have a firm set of principles to guide you, as you sort through all the problems the world faces," Bush said. "And I would be very hesitant to support somebody who relied upon opinion polls and focus groups to define a way forward for a president," he said, without identifying any such candidates by name.