- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

The White House has threatened to veto the 2003 omnibus spending bill if it exceeds the president's spending ceiling, micromanages the new Department of Homeland Security, weakens sanctions against Cuba or funds abortion overseas.
The letter, sent by Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., arrived on Capitol Hill Tuesday as House and Senate negotiators were hammering out the 11 remaining 2003 spending bills.
The Oct. 1 start of the 2003 fiscal year came and went when the budget process deteriorated in the Senate. Only two spending bills, for the Defense Department, were completed. The rest of the federal government has been funded at 2002 levels by continuing resolutions. The House and Senate passed the latest one last night.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, noted "lots of sticking points" to resolving the 2003 budget, but said he hoped they would be settled in the coming week.
"We're still shooting for [resolution] when we go on [Presidents Day] recess," Mr. Santorum said. "But it's still tenuous."
Mr. Daniels' letter to House and Senate leaders told lawmakers not to retain "numerous unacceptable restrictions that undermine implementation" of the Homeland Security Department. President Bush also opposes language "that would weaken current sanctions against the Cuban government" and "omit several current law provisions" that prohibit the use of federal funds for abortions performed in other countries.
Much of the missive, however, focused on sticking to the $385.9 billion cap the president requested for non-defense discretionary spending. The letter warned Congress not to try to hide additional spending with legislative tricks.
"It is important that this limit be reached transparently," Mr. Daniels wrote. "Should the final version of the bill exceed this level, including excessive use of advance appropriations or other mechanisms that would circumvent this spending limit, the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
Republicans downplayed the veto threat.
"It was nothing that was unexpected. We'll wait and see," said John Scofield, spokesman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee. "A lot of those [provisions] were suggestions and some of them were must-haves."
Democrats, however, say the president's budget priorities are misplaced and that the major sticking point is Mr. Bush's refusal to fully fund his No Child Left Behind Act.
"Bush made the promise of this funding, and we are simply forcing him to live up to his own rhetoric," said David Sirota, a spokesman for Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Under an ambitious schedule to settle the remaining 2003 spending bills, negotiations would end Monday night and floor votes would be held in the House on Wednesday and in the Senate on Feb. 13.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department said yesterday that the government would hit the $6.4 trillion ceiling on the national debt Feb. 20 and urged Congress to raise the government's borrowing authority.
"If the statutory debt ceiling is not raised, the Treasury will have to begin to use a number of stopgap devices some costly to manage debt," Treasury officials said in a statement.
Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and ranking member of the House Budget Committee, points to the need to raise the debt limit as an indication that the president's 2004 budget which forecasts $300 billion deficits in the next two years is unwise.
"This is the second time in less than a year that the statutory debt ceiling has needed to be raised, and a sign of more to come in the future," Mr. Spratt said.
The Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative House Democrats, pledged to "lay down on the tracks in opposition to the administration's request for another blank check to finance its course of deficit spending in perpetuity."

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