- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

President Bush yesterday demanded that the Democrat-controlled Congress pass a spending bill for the Defense Department before lawmakers head off for a monthlong break after next week.

“We”ve got troops in harm”s way. They need to exercise their responsibility,” said Mr. Bush, who told Congress: “I”ll hang around if they want me to, to get the bill passed.”

The defense bill was pulled from the Senate floor last week by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, after the chamber failed to pass an amendment that set a spring deadline for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq.

Congress begins its summer recess Aug. 6, and the Senate has yet to pass one of the annual 12 spending bills. Democrats have sought to add $23 billion in spending increases over the $2.9 trillion budget request, prompting Mr. Bush to threaten to veto more than half of the stalled bills.

“The president”s call today to pressure Congress to quickly complete a defense-spending bill that does not take effect until October is simply the latest example of the president shamelessly hiding behind our brave troops in an effort to distract attention from his failed national security record and failed conduct of this war,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Bush blamed Congress — specifically Democrats — for the delays and said that in “time of war,” the defense bill should take precedent.

“They”re now in charge, and it”s important that they exercise their responsibility,” he said in a speech before a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Philadelphia.

“They”ve been dragging their feet on these bills. They are now getting ready to leave for their August recess without having passed a single spending bill.”

Mr. Bush has insisted that the bills come to him one at a time, not as a “massive spending bill that no one can read and in which anyone can hide wasteful spending.”

That is exactly what Republican leaders say Democrats are scheming to do.

“The Democrats are going to have an omnibus spending bill right at the beginning of the next fiscal year,” Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday.

“Every bill is going to exceed what should be a reasonable amount, for a huge tax increase,” he said. “And they”re going to try to attach authorizations to it. And it all is going to lead to tax increases.”

Mr. Reid said Republicans, not Democrats, are delaying and accused Mr. Bush of using the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as political cover.

“It is time for the president and the Republicans to do more than just say the right thing; it is time they worked with us for the good of the country and our security,” the Nevada Democrat said.

The House has passed nine of the 12 bills, most without veto-proof majorities. The president said all the bills should be complete by Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends and money expires for government operations.

Mr. Bush criticized Democrats” spending priorities, saying that because their budget counts on the expiration of current tax cuts he pushed through during his first term, it represents “the largest tax increase in American history.”

“The bunch now running the Congress want to return to the tax-and-spend policies of the past that did not work then and will not work in the future,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush”s has nominated former Rep. Jim Nussle to run the White House Budget Office and the administration hopes to have him in place in September when the standoff over funding will reach a head. Mr. Nussle yesterday participated in a cordial committee hearing, but a full floor vote could be held up as Democrats pursue an agreement with Mr. Bush on the appropriations bills.

Yesterday, Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to devote an additional $3 billion to gaining control over the U.S.-Mexico border. Because the measure passed by an 89-1 margin, the homeland security funding bill could pass by a veto-proof margin.

The White House signaled that it would accept the additional money for the border.

“To the extent Congress supports additional emergency funding, we want to work with them to make sure it is spent on the highest border security priorities,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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