In his blog, Jove Francisco gave an outstanding behind-the-scenes account of the State of the Nation Address, as well as a critique from the invaluable point of view of someone who has covered the President throughout her stay in office. He also gives a sneak peek into the proposed national budget, which (again) the President didn’t submit to Congress on the day of her speech (unlike her predecessors). To be sure, press releases were issued outlining the proposed budget; and news reports indicate that the President has approved the budget to be submitted. However, the proposed budget won’t actually be submitted to the House until August 22, which is two days before the deadline set by law.
Yesterday, on Twink Macaraig’s show, I suggested that the President’s consistent failure (or more properly, refusal to conform with tradition, much as of course she complies with the deadlines imposed by law) to submit her proposed budget after making her speech, reflects her approach to the presidency and her attitude towards building the Congressional alliances necessary to get things done. As I’ve said in the past, agenda-setting is one of the biggest powers of any president. The State of the National Address sets the agenda, both for Congress and the public. But the proposed budget is, in terms of the House at least, the only agenda that matters.
The House has the exclusive power of the purse; even the Senate can only wait for the General Appropriations Act crafted by the House, before it can, in turn, propose further amendments and revisions (if the House dilly-dallies, the Senate gets blamed for a late passage of the budget). Since the President, however, submits a proposed budget, the deliberations of Congress is essentially circumscribed by the chief executive’s proposals. At the end of the whole thing is the President’s ability to veto legislation, including whatever General Appropriations Act the Congress passes.
Now, to return to my point on the significance of the President’s not submitting her proposed budget after she delivers her Sona.
I told Twink there can only be two reasons. The first would be, inefficiency when it comes to what President Marcos used to call “complete staff work.” The proposed budget hasn’t been submitted on time, because the required work wasn’t done on time, which would indicate inefficiency in the executive branch. To give the President and the bureaucracy the benefit of the doubt, I am inclined to assume that isn’t the reason.
The other reason, then, I proposed, must be a tactical one. The President, who always lavishes a lot of time and attention on patronage-related projects which other presidents weren’t inclined to dwell on, views her Sona as a kind of appetizer. It’s a way of dangling projects before her supporters (and potential allies even from opposition circles) without actually committing to them right away. By delaying the submission of the proposed budget, the President has additional time to accomodate allies and punish enemies. It is much easier for the House to approve a presidential proposal, than it is to strike it out. A president’s budget proposal sets the parameters, which is why previous presidents actively involved the House in the formulation of the budget. Presidents have also always maintained an office in Congress, to nurse the budget and their other pet legislation through the legislative mill.
Thing is, past presidents were not tentative about budget proposals, the way the current President is. Being tentative suits her fine, and illustrates how she believes everything is negotiable, and it suggests how tentatively, too, she views her office and its powers. Now to be sure, the process more or less works, for her. I told Twink that the President is like a gardener, fussing over hundreds of little potted plants in a greenhouse; all that fussing produces results. It’s not how her predecessors would have done it (the Speaker, for one, was supposed to do that fussing), but it’s the way the President likes to attend to matters.
It shows, too, how slovenly Congress has become: and additionally, how spoiled the House has become. If everything, always, is negotiable, then there isn’t an incentive to produce results, and on time. The end result is that to muster a quorum to consider the budget, “incentives” have to be applied, and the same, for all we know, may apply to committees charged with deliberating on the budget, too. A far cry from the days when a president created momentum two ways, through the Sona and the submission of the proposed budget, simultaneously, a proposal, incidentally, that already went through the consensus-building process prior to submission.
Anyway, outside of the President’s partisan political constituency, her other major constituency, businessmen, have been muted in their response. See The Unlawyer’s summary of business’ reactions.
Mongster’s Nest provides a thorough critique of his own, of the Sona. Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas! wonders what the fuss was about.
In the blogosphere, I enjoyed this entry very much, in the blog of Jae Fever. There is a kind of fulfillment from a sense of philosophical detachment. Much as we more often than not disagree, faithful readers like Rego and Bencard (and even occasional visitors like Benign0) do make a vital point when they ask, what’s all the hubbub about, and, with all the attention focused on the President, the deeper problems won’t vanish, even if she vanished, and whether she goes sooner or later, what will those who are itching to replace her hope to achieve? AKOMISO answers, very well, I think, these questions, even as he points out the flaws in such questions.