Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The White House said President Bush will veto the Senate’s $106.5 billion spending bill for hurricane relief and the war on terror if senators do not remove billions in extra, unrelated allocations.

“The administration is seriously concerned with the overall funding level,”the Office of Management and Budget said late yesterday. “Accordingly, if the president is ultimately presented a bill that provides more than $92.2 billion, … he will veto the bill.”

Leading conservatives warned yesterday that Republicans risk losing their majority over “pork” spending and that Mr. Bush should veto the legislation if the lawmakers don’t trim the fat.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, welcomed Mr. Bush’s threat. “I applaud the administration’s determination to stick to true emergency spending, and will support a veto, if necessary,” he said.

David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said Americans want Congress to curb out-of-control federal spending, not add to it.

“They’re playing the game that Democrats played for 40 years: ‘We can buy our re-election,’” he said.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said, “It’s in the president’s interest to veto this bill.”

The level of the Senate bill is $14 billion above what the House approved and above Mr. Bush’s request of $92 billion.

Critics say several of the add-ons hardly qualify as emergency spending.

One example is a $700 million allocation to reroute a railroad in Mississippi northward. Some have dubbed it “the railroad to nowhere.”

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, also supported a veto.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said Mr. Bush “has been complicit in Congress’ spending spree for too long.”

Conservatives led by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, aim to reduce the cost of the bill this week by removing some of the add-ons.

The Senate measure contains $72.4 billion for military operations and the war on terror and $27 billion for hurricane relief — well above the roughly $19 billion in hurricane relief requested by Mr. Bush. It also adds $4 billion for agricultural disaster assistance, $2.3 billion for pandemic flu preparedness and $648 million for port security.

The OMB said Mr. Bush approves of the funding for flu preparedness, but insists that the other items be removed.

Critics say some items under the bill’s section on hurricane relief are unnecessary. They include $1.1 billion for fishery development and $700 million for the Mississippi railroad project, which is championed by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.

Mr. Cochran said the railroad, which was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina last year, must be moved north to safety or it will be “vulnerable again to another hurricane.”

Critics say the rerouting proposal is just a long-held economic goal of the Mississippi business community and doesn’t belong in the bill.

Mr. Bush yesterday requested an additional $2.2 billion to repair New Orleans’ levees, but suggested an offset to pay for it.

Mr. Coburn is likely to attack $500 million in the bill to repay a defense contractor for losses suffered in the hurricane, $100,000 to build a driver’s license facility in Georgia and $623 million for new veterans facilities.

Democrats are using the spending bill to highlight steep gasoline prices. They offered an amendment yesterday to temporarily lift the gas and diesel tax.

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