White House Won't Put Ceiling On Spending (For Now)

Despite its recent veto of the enhanced State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and renewed interest in thwarting big-spending measures passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress, the White House is so far unwilling to set a ceiling on what the total budget should be before it is a met by a Presidential veto.
That was what Press Secretary Dana Perino suggested to me at Friday afternoon’s briefing for reporters at the White House.  After opening the session with criticism of Congress for not passing a single appropriations bill so far, the President’s top spokeswoman bantered over questions as to “what is torture” that had dominated the gaggle (early morning press briefing) earlier in the day.

Finally, I recalled to Perino how, in his first term, when the highway bill came up, the President set a limit, a ceiling on what he would veto if Congress went over it in terms of appropriations.

“Are you going to do the same with the overall budget or individual appropriations?,” I asked her.

“Well, we have veto threats out on many of the appropriations bills,” Perino told me, “But that sends a signal to let Congress know, here’s the policy issue that the President is going to have trouble, let’s work together to see if we can get a bill done that wouldn’t result in a veto. What we don’t want to see is a large omnibus bill at the end of the year where all sorts of mischief can occur. And so I don’t think we’re at a point yet where I could anticipate whether we’re going to set a limit or not, because we don’t want that to happen. We want the individual bills to be passed.

Referring to her remark about an end-of-the-year bill with “all sorts of mischief,”  I asked whether the President “would veto an omnibus bill then?”

“I’m not going to speculate,” replied Perino.

. . . And We Won’t Break Off With Burma Yet, Either

Dana Perino has repeatedly been telling my colleagues and me about the concerns of President and Mrs. Bush about the crackdown of dissidents in Burma and the resultant sanctions against the Peking-backed military government there.  She began Friday’s press briefing with a statement on Burma.

But neither Perino nor any Administration spokesman has ever suggested that the U.S. would take the decisive step of breaking off diplomatic relations with the Burmese military government and recalling our ambassador there.  This was the same case that the elder George Bush’s Administration took during the last military crackdown in Burma in 1990, something that Burmese exiles are currently recalling.

As I pointed out to Perino Friday, “[A] number of members of the exiled [sic] committee in the United States were quoted over the weekend as recalling in 1990, when the military had its last crackdown, how President Bush’s father said he was monitoring the situation closely, and they had all kinds of hopes that he would break off diplomatic recognition with Burma and send a message. Given the recent developments there, is the administration considering ending diplomatic relations with Burma?”

“Well, what we are considering is any further steps, whether it be additional sanctions or other types of actions, and it would be premature for me to announce those from here,” replied Perino, “Those discussions are underway. We are paying very close attention to it. The President and Mrs. Bush are very concerned, and I can tell you that they’re very interested. They’re also — they’re calling on [Special UN envoy] Mr. Gambari to go back immediately so that he can meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta to try to get them on the path to a peaceful transition to democracy. Then in the meantime, we are considering what other steps we can do in the federal government.”

“Is breaking off diplomatic relations on or off the table?,” I asked,

Perino would not budget, saying only: “I’m going to decline to comment on that until we have more.”