The situation is even worse than Quin and Dave have discussed. In private meetings with both House and Senate leaders before the notorious "Highway Bill" reached markup status, senior White House officials, and perhaps even the President, made clear that they expected a bill to come in at around $256 billion.
"We made it clear that if the bill did not come in at that level, then the President would veto it," says a former legislative lobbyist for the White House. "It was an outright threat."
So what do the House and Senate leaders do? They ignore the White House. Why? "Because we had made the threat before and never once followed through. They knew they could roll us. And they did," says the lobbyist.
One of the problems with raising the limit was that Congressional leaders Frist, Hastert and DeLay went back to the White House with the numbers. Perhaps had chairmen of the appropriate committees been required to go tell the President his spending limits were being busted, things would have turned out differently. But when someone is giving you cover, it's easy to do what you want to do.