WASHINGTON – In what is shaping up as the most contentious federal budget drama in more than a decade, President Bush warned Monday that he would veto any congressional attempt to force his hand by passing a catchall spending bill.
The fiscal year ends within days, and Congress has not completed any of the 12 spending bills it is supposed to pass by Oct. 1 to fund government agencies, Bush noted during remarks to business leaders visiting the White House. One way Democrats might try to secure the funding they want is by lumping the bills together in a trillion-dollar “omnibus” bill.
Bush said that would make it easier for lawmakers to sneak in private spending projects.
“If they think that by waiting until just before they leave for the year to send me a bill that is way over budget and thicker than a phone book – if they think that’s going to force me to sign it – it’s not,” Bush said.
Bush has been under pressure to rein in spending from deficit hawks within the GOP. Also, a new book by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan takes Bush to task for an “unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending.”
During his first term in office, Bush did not veto a single bill. In the past 14 months, he has vetoed three: two measures that would have loosened restrictions on federal funding of stem-cell research and one that tied money for the Iraq war to a withdrawal timeline.
So far, Democrats have not been able to muster the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn a veto. But a $23 billion water bill the Senate approved Monday might be the first to jump that hurdle – and test Bush’s resolve on spending disputes.
The bill passed 81-12, easily surpassing the two-thirds threshold. Thirty-six Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill, which authorizes a raft of projects sought by lawmakers from both parties. The funding still would have to be appropriated in separate spending bills.
The measure passed the House earlier this year on a 381-40 vote and now goes to Bush – who has said he would veto it.
The measure authorizes spending on hundreds of projects across the United States, including millions of dollars to protect the Gulf Coast from future storms.
With both houses of Congress in the hands of Democrats for the first time in his presidency, Bush has promised to veto every spending bill he dislikes. That has set the stage for a confrontation reminiscent of President Clinton’s first years in office. Few expect government shutdowns like the ones that occurred in 1995-96, however. Congress this week is expected to approve a stop-gap measure to keep the government operating at current spending levels until mid-November.