Freedom’s Watch, a deep-pocketed conservative group led by two former senior White House officials, made an audacious debut in late August when it began a $15 million advertising campaign designed to maintain Congressional support for President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq.
Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy.
For years, the group’s founders lamented MoveOn’s growing influence, derived in large part from its grass-roots efforts, especially on the debate about the Iraq war. “A bunch of us activists kept watching MoveOn and its attacks on the war, and it just got to be obnoxious,” said Mr. Sembler, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney.
[The group] denies coordinating its activities with the White House, although many of its donors and organizers are well connected to the administration, including Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary.
Mr. Blakeman denied the accusation that Freedom’s Watch is a White House front group. “I don’t need their help,” he said of his former colleagues at the White House. “I don’t seek their help. And they don’t offer it.” Mr. Blakeman is a long-time friend of Ed Gillespie, the new counselor to Mr. Bush who succeeded Dan Bartlett. Mr. Blakeman said that he spoke frequently with Mr. Gillespie, but that they were careful not to discuss the activities of Freedom’s Watch.
"Congress failed in its most basic responsibility," the president said in his weekly radio address.
The bills are tied up because Democrats want to add $23 billion for domestic programs to Bush's $933 billion request for the approximately one-third of the federal budget funded by the yearly spending bills. Bush has threatened vetoes on most of the bills, eager to re-establish his party's reputation as the place to go for fiscal discipline.
The president said Democrats are planning the "biggest tax increase in American history" to pay for the new spending.
"Earlier this year congressional leaders promised to show that they could be responsible with the people's money," he said. "Unfortunately they seem to have chosen the path of higher spending."
Democrats say their spending add-ons are relatively modest given the overall size of the budget and in comparison with Bush's pending $189 billion request for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. And most of the additional money, Democrats say, simply restores cuts proposed by Bush to popular programs such as community development grants, health research and anti-crime initiatives.