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Veto promised unless spending bill is trimmed

The White House on Saturday threatened to veto a massive spending bill being assembled by congressional Democrats, saying it's unacceptable to add billions of dollars to domestic programs.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The White House on Saturday threatened to veto a massive spending bill being assembled by congressional Democrats, saying it's unacceptable to add billions of dollars to domestic programs.

The White House has not seen details of the $500 billion-plus measure — which senior Democrats are constructing behind closed doors — but reacted to it based on media accounts.

The bill contains $11 billion above President Bush's February budget, awarding the money to domestic programs such as education and health research. It also may contain several billion dollars in "emergency" funding for border security, foreign aid, drought relief and a food program for women and children.

The budget increases come on top of $5 billion awarded last month for disaster relief and Louisiana's "Road Home" housing program for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"This so-called compromise would result in more excess spending than even the Democrats' original budget included," said White House Budget chief Jim Nussle. "This is not fiscally responsible."

‘Deal’ unacceptable to GOP
The White House statement came after The Washington Post reported Saturday that the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, supports the idea of allowing domestic spending increases if Democrats support $70 billion or so in war funding. McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the account was off the mark and McConnell issued a statement saying the "'deal' described in today's press reports remains unacceptable to congressional Republicans."

There is a divide between House conservatives seeking to repair the GOP's bruised reputation on fiscal discipline and Senate veterans such as McConnell, who is eager to see an omnibus spending bill pass before the end of the year. House leaders have been pressing Bush to reject any bill that would bring so-called discretionary spending — the one-third of the federal budget passed each year by Congress — above $933 billion.

The Democratic measure would roll together 11 spending bills funding every Cabinet agency except the Defense Department, whose $459 billion budget bill passed last month. The $11 billion increase pushed by Democrats would split the difference between the increases contained in Democrats' original spending bills and the level sought by Bush.

The difference between Bush and Democrats amounts to only about 2 percentage points and is dwarfed by Bush's $196 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Bush has adopted a hard line, and his veto pen gives him great leverage, especially as Congress races to complete its work and adjourn for the year.

$70 billion Pentagon ‘bridge fund’ likely
"Congressional Democrats understand the need to fund critical priorities at home while we also correct the disastrous course the White House has set at home and abroad," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Saturday in a joint statement. "This war already costs taxpayers $12 billion a month.... The last thing this administration should do is preach about responsible management."

Democrats are signaling they are willing to give Bush a portion of the war funding on terms the White House can accept. Republicans say $70 billion would be a sufficient "bridge fund" for the Pentagon.

The House is slated to take up the massive bill on Tuesday, a day after it is to be publicly released. The House bill would not contain Iraq funding, though it would likely provide about $30 billion for Afghanistan and some domestic military needs. The Senate would add $40 billion or so for Iraq.

The Saturday development signals Republicans will play hardball to try to scale back the additional domestic spending. Still, many Republicans, especially the pragmatists who populate the appropriations committees, see Bush's budget as too stringent, and it's commonly assumed that Bush will ultimately agree to some additional spending as the price for obtaining war funds.

A stopgap government funding bill runs out Friday.