WASHINGTON -- The White House and Congress clashed bitterly over the nation's budget crisis yesterday as the House failed to override President Bush's veto, just hours earlier, of a stopgap measure that would have kept the government working for another week.
In killing the emergency spending bill, the president angrily accused lawmakers of conducting "business as usual" instead of cutting the federal deficit.
After two hours of acrimonious debate, the House voted 260-138, falling just short of the two-thirds needed to override. Nine Democrats sided with Mr. Bush to sustain the veto, with 25 Republicans deserting the president.
The action virtually left the government in fiscal chaos and put
more pressure on lawmakers to devise a new five-year, $500 billion deficit-cutting budget package over the long holiday weekend.
After the override attempt failed, the House continued debate for several hours before adjourning. Both chambers are expected to meet later today. The president left for Camp David until tomorrow.
The previous plan -- a combination of tax increases and spending cuts -- died Friday when a defiant House repudiated Mr. Bush and congressional leaders, killing it, 300-113.
The federal government began shutting down non-essential services yesterday when the president refused to sign an emergency bill designed to keep the government going for another week. Although Mr. Bush had threatened a veto, lawmakers passed the measure late Friday to gain time to cut a deal.
The full effect of the shutdown is not expected to be felt until Tuesday, after the Columbus Day holiday for government workers, but many tourists were denied access to popular attractions here, including the Washington Monument and the White House itself.
Many of the visitors packed the House gallery, murmuring when lawmakers decried the shutdown of national parks and monuments -- and the standoff between the legislative and executive branches of government.
Some lawmakers exacerbated the tension.
"President Bush is treating 2 million federal workers like Saddam Hussein treated his so-called guests in Iraq," declared Representative Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., touching off angry booing by Republicans. Undeterred, Mr. Durbin said that Mr. Bush and the Republicans were "holding their breaths until the federal workers turn blue."
"The White House thinks they can walk away from the scene of the crime. As they say in Georgia, 'That dog don't hunt,' " said Representative Ben Jones, D-Ga. "The American people don't want fault-finding. There's plenty of blame to go around. The American people want solutions."
After the vote, the House Budget Committee and other key legislators began working on a substitute measure, expected to keep the broad outlines of the failed plan while leaving many of the details to be decided by legislative committees.
The substitute plan would issue "guidance" to the committees on various spending programs. For example, a proposed tax increase on home heating oil might be ruled off limits, several Democrats involved in the process said.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush emerged from a contentious, 90-minute meeting with congressional leaders and told reporters that he would "strongly support" a short-term solution to the nation's fiscal crisis if it included automatic spending cuts to reduce the deficit.
House Republicans quickly embraced the suggestion, advocating across-the-board spending cuts until a long-range plan could be devised. Democratic leaders said last night that they would agree to allow a vote on that today, in the absence of their own deficit-reduction plan.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said after the White House meeting that Mr. Bush was prepared to sign a spending bill that would avert the shutdown of government services as long as it incorporated an estimated $40.8 billion in across-the-board spending cuts.
"We think the sequester serves as a kind of pressure to get the Congress to get the job done," said Representative Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. Mr. Bush raised this idea because he "doesn't want to be a wrecker of government," he said.
Mr. Bush continued to express strong support for the $500 billion, five-year deficit-cutting package the House rejected Friday, saying he had been more than willing to compromise -- by dropping his promises of "no new taxes" and his bid to cut the tax on capital gains -- in order to forge that agreement.
But still smarting from that initial House rejection -- and desertion bymembers of his own party -- Mr. Bush denounced any attempt to keep government operations running without immediate congressional action on the deficit. "I acquiesced, I compromised, I gave. I'm not going to do it anymore," he said.
"We came together on a deal. We worked for it. Everybody had a chance to posture that didn't like it. They had no responsibility," Mr. Bush said. "But I feel a certain responsibility to the American people to move something forward here."
Explaining his veto of the emergency spending bill, his 14th straight successful veto, Mr. Bush was apologetic about the government shutdown, but he lashed out again at Congress.
"These outrageous deficits cannot be permitted to go on and on and on," he said. "I'm very sorry if people are inconvenienced, but I am not going to be part of business as usual by the United States Congress. I've had enough of it."
Democratic leaders fired right back, blaming him squarely.
"The decision to close the government is the president's, and the president's alone," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, after meeting Mr. Bush at the White House. "It will cause pain and anguish for thousands of families and serves no useful purpose."
One enraged senior House Democrat said, "The president was very irresponsible to put us in a partisan fight at this time." He called the veto a "terrible, awful, unbelievably foolish decision."
Mr. Bush later insisted that he remained "flexible" if Republican and Democratic leaders could negotiate a revised deficit-cutting package with a good chance of passage. "I'm not saying that I can't look at new proposals, but you've got to put together a majority in the Congress."