CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush, still voicing concern about special project spending by Congress, signed a $555 billion bill Wednesday that funds the Iraq war well into 2008 and keeps government agencies running through next September.
Bush's signed the massive spending bill as he flew on Air Force One to his Texas ranch here to see in the new year. His signature on the legislation caps a long-running fight with the Democratic-run Congress.
"I am disappointed in the way the Congress compiled this legislation, including abandoning the goal I set early this year to reduce the number and cost of earmarks by half," the president said in a statement. "Instead, the Congress dropped into the bill nearly 9,800 earmarks that total more than $10 billion. These projects are not funded through a merit-based process and provide a vehicle for wasteful government spending."
"There is still more to be done to rein in government spending," Bush said. "In February I will submit my budget proposal for fiscal year 2009, which will once again restrain spending, keep taxes low, and continue us on a path towards a balanced budget. I look forward to working with the Congress in the coming year to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely."
A Bush spokesman, Scott Stanzel, had told reporters en route to Texas earlier that the president remained concerned about "Congress' addiction to earmarks."
Bush also signed into law a bill that Congress passed just before the holiday recess, placing a one-year freeze on the alternative minimum tax. Without such legislation, more than 20 million taxpayers would have faced this tax for the first time this year and it would have cost each an additional estimated $2,000 at tax time. Last year 4 million paid the AMT; this year it was expected to hit 25 million.
Bush, who had used his veto power to remain relevant in the debate with Democrats on national spending priorities, had agreed to sign the spending measure, which includes $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, after winning concessions on Iraq and other budget items. The bill bankrolls 14 Cabinet departments and federal agencies and funds foreign aid for the budget year that began on Oct. 1.
Bush and his Senate GOP allies forced the Iraq money upon anti-war Democrats as the price for permitting the year-end budget deal to pass and be signed.
Democrats tried to use war spending legislation to force a change in Bush's Iraq policy, chiefly by setting a withdrawal goal with dates such as Dec. 15, 2009. But Bush and Republicans held a powerful hand. They knew Democrats would not let money lapse for troops overseas. That allowed a Bush veto in May and GOP stalling tactics to determine the outcome.
On the domestic budget, Bush's GOP allies were divided over whether the overall spending bill was a victory for their party in the long fight with Democrats over agency budgets.
Conservatives and outside watchdog groups criticized the bill for having about $28 billion in domestic spending that topped Bush's budget and was paid for by a combination of "emergency" spending, transfers from the defense budget and other maneuvers.
Stanzel noted Wednesday that Bush had asked for options the White House might have to abrogate some or a large degree of the special interest spending.
"So no decisions have been made on that front," Stanzel added, "but certainly as you noted in the president's press conference last week, he talked about directing the OMB director, Jim Nussle, to look at ways _ or look at avenues by which the federal government can address those earmarks."