President Bush’s threat to veto further emergency spending will get its first test in Congress tomorrow when House appropriators decide whether to cross his $40 billion line in the sand.
A shaky coalition of Democrats and New York Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee is seeking $15 billion to $20 billion more for New York’s recovery and homeland security.
But the White House, hoping to head off a veto, has been working overtime to appease the New Yorkers and keep them from joining forces with the committee Democrats. House Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, isn’t guaranteeing the White House a victory.
“Appropriators have a right to offer whatever they want to offer,” Mr. Young said. “I may totally disagree with what they’re trying to do, but they have a right to offer it.”
The panel’s two New York Republicans, Reps. James T. Walsh and John E. Sweeney, support an $11 billion package for their state that would exceed the $40 billion Congress approved last month for the Pentagon and New York. But committee Democrats want Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sweeney to support their larger package of at least $15 billion, which would include homeland security expenses as well.
“Our fear is that the New York Republicans will not vote for the big package,” said a senior House Democrat staffer.
The White House says that the government has not yet spent the initial $40 billion, and that lawmakers can approve more emergency spending next year if necessary.
Mr. Bush’s veto threat, issued last week in a meeting with lawmakers at the White House, has galvanized congressional Democrats to test his resolve by proposing a huge spending increase. It also set off a scramble among Republicans to avoid such a direct confrontation.
Mr. Young said in an interview that he chided the president for speaking of a veto.
“Even mentioning the word ‘veto’ would tend to indicate there’s a split in the bipartisanship,” Mr. Young said. “The use of the ‘veto’ word was not helpful. For those that want to create a split, whether it’s the Taliban or whoever it might be who likes to say ‘Americans aren’t united on this,’ they are wrong. We are united.”
But Mr. Young and Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, senior Democrat on the panel, sent a letter to the White House late last week demanding the administration disclose how it is spending a portion of the $40 billion in emergency funds. When Congress approved the money, it required the White House to report to lawmakers on how the first $20 billion was to be spent.
“Appropriators want to ensure that New York City receives the $20 billion it was promised, while also making sure that homeland security is adequately addressed,” said a spokesman for Mr. Obey.
The Office of Management and Budget did not respond in writing, but OMB spokeswoman Amy Call said the White House “looks forward” to working with appropriators on how to spend the $20 billion.
“We are sure the House appropriators’ goal is not to impede the efficient release of funds,” she said.
The question of emergency terrorism-related spending has not improved the normal tension between Congress and OMB. Several appropriators blame OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. for instigating the veto showdown on emergency spending.
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said Senate Republicans have at least the 41 votes necessary to block emergency spending above the $40 billion mark. He said instead he would try to revise how some of that $40 billion is spent, saying the administration should devote more money to military re-fueling air tankers, to bioterrorism vaccines, to food safety and to the U.S. Postal Service.
“I don’t think we have to go outside [the $40 billion],” Mr. Stevens said. “We have a right to determine what is the national priority for that money. The emergencies I see will be within that bill if I’m successful. We’re just saying how you can spend it.”