WASHINGTON – President Bush has tightened the reigns on government spending since Democrats came to power in order to pacify the GOP base, said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in a major speech at the National Press Club Friday.
The charge came as Bush said he will veto eight of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2008 because of Democratic plans to spend $23 billion more than the president proposed.
The fiscal year will end Sept. 30, so without new spending authorization, the government would be forced to shut down. Instead, Congress sent a continuing resolution to the White House Friday, which allows the government to run through the middle of November, said Sean Kevelighan, press secretary for the Office of Management and Budget.
Bush is expected to sign the resolution, but the White House said Congress should “do its job” and write appropriations bills that the president can sign, Kevelighan said.
That’s exactly the posture Hoyer said he expected from the administration.
“The bottom line is the administration is itching to instigate an appropriations fight with Congress in a vain effort to,” pander to its conservative base, he said.
The House Majority Leader excoriated Bush for not vetoing any appropriations bills over the past six years while Republicans ran Congress, even though spending has grown by an average of 7.1 percent every year.
Spending under President Clinton grew at an average rate of 3.9 percent a year, he said.
“The Bush administration has been radically irresponsible in terms of fiscal matters with deficits increasing,” said Gar Alperovitz, a professor specializing in fiscal crisis at the University of Maryland.
“The Clinton administration produced major budget surpluses which were decimated by the Bush administration,” he said.
The Clinton administration had a net surplus of $62.9 billion.
Hoyer called the spending habits of the Republican-lead Congress the reason behind their “train wreck” of a fiscal record, pushing the deficit to nearly $1.4 trillion over the past six years by refusing to pay for their tax cuts and entitlement spending increases.
“So, forgive me for dismissing the Republican Party’s claim that it is fiscally responsible,” he said.
To put the deficit in perspective, Hoyer said every American owes $29,688 on the national debt, and the ballooning budget shortfall is costing state and local governments every day.
Hoyer said the deficit has a direct impact on average citizens in terms of health care and the safety of their streets. In the long run, he said, programs such as Social Security and Medicare could be affected.
“Cutbacks in programs mean that the pressure increases at the state and local level,” Alperovitz said.
“Cuts at the national level come home to roost in every city in the United States.”
One way local governments are rebounding is to go into business to make up for tax cuts.
“Governments are going into business in property development, cable and in environmental projects, by capturing methane from garbage dumps to make energy,” Alperovitz said. “It’s a way to supplement from the financial crisis.”
He suggested that fiscal relief would not come until 2009, when the Democratic Congress can allow Bush’s tax cuts for the nation’s top earners to expire.
“I don’t think we’re going to get any change on tax policy or on Iraq until the next administration,” he said.
“The top 1 percent of Americans now has almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans, which is an extraordinary fact, and they ought to be taxed accordingly,” Alperovitz said.
But not everyone agreed. Richard Falknor, executive vice president of Maryland Taxpayers’ Association, a bi-partisan group against tax hikes, said raising taxes on the wealthy is not the answer.
“If public spending is curtailed it hurts. But raising the taxes for high-wage earners is not going to work,” he said.
“Otherwise, who is going to be around to play a role in Governor O’Malley’s schemes? No one, they’re going to get out of Dodge,” he said.
Hoyer said Democrats have reinstated their “pay-as-you-go” budget rules, which require them to offset 80 percent of new spending by cutting other expenses, and 20 percent of spending with new taxes.
Much of the additional $23 billion requested in the appropriations bills would cover cuts proposed by Bush to education, medical research and law enforcement grants.
“Please, Mr. President, do not lecture us about fiscal responsibility,” Hoyer said. “And please, do not tell us that we cannot find funding to invest in our children, our infrastructure and our future when you are proposing to spend another $190 billion on the war in Iraq.”