Congressional Democrats say they”re in position to sway enough Republicans to override some of the vetoes President Bush has promised on as many as nine of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the federal government.
Democrats say centrist Republicans indicated they are willing to go against Mr. Bush, who yesterday accused the Democrat-led Congress of trying to “sneak in all kinds of special projects” as the weekend deadline for the bills approaches.
But in a sharp reversal of decades of Washington conventional wisdom, Democrats on the Hill say the White House and Republicans are those posting a record of fiscal irresponsibility. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Mr. Bush has no moral authority on the issue after the carefree, pork-laden spending he allowed when Republicans controlled Congress.
“This is the most fiscally irresponsible administration with which I’ve served,” said the Maryland Democrat. “Whether we’re going to have a safer nation, a better-educated nation, a healthier nation, that’s what this dispute is about. We think these are responsible bills.”
The Bush administration threatened to veto most of the appropriations bills that exceed the president’s budget request. Nine of the 12 appropriations bills passed by the House are targeted for a presidential veto, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Senate has passed only four of its spending bills heading into the new fiscal year Monday.
Mr. Bush yesterday recommended that Congress pass “clean” continuing resolutions, which it does regularly to keep the government running at the previous year”s spending levels, and to avoid later lumping the bills into one omnibus bill that attracts “wasteful or pork-barrel” spending without debate.
“The principle should be that there would be no new spending, no new policies, no new projects, unless the president and Congress agree in advance on a specific item,” said Mr. Bush.
But Democrats say it is Republicans who drastically expanded federal spending and continue to abuse the earmark process.
“After running up $3 trillion in new debt, including more than half a trillion dollars for his flawed Iraq policy, it is astounding that the president is once again lecturing Congress about fiscal responsibility and fiscal priorities,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Sources in the House and Senate leadership and Appropriations committees say they could find the votes to override Mr. Bush if he vetoes the homeland security bill.
The Senate’s version received 89 votes, including 38 Republicans. The House version was supported by 45 Republicans, despite being nearly $2 billion above the president’s $34.2 billion request.
Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, who heads the Republican Mainstreet Project, a group of liberal Republicans, said Republican leaders should not assume all lawmakers will fall in line to sustain a presidential spending veto.
Democrats say their position is strong, even on spending bills where Republicans fight to sustain a Bush veto.
“We were very careful about what we allowed through,” said one senior Democratic aide.
Bowing to political reality, the OMB ruled out a veto of the veterans spending bill, even if it exceeds the overall cap.
White House officials are reportedly re-evaluating how many vetoes Mr. Bush will issue to avoid a protracted fight that some Republicans fear could be a repeat of the 1995 government shutdown, which is credited with bolstering President Clinton for his re-election.
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