Talk on spending sought with Bush

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have asked for a meeting with President Bush to see if they can work out an agreement on spending bills for the fiscal year that begins in 10 weeks. But lawmakers from both parties said they see no obvious way to overcome the stalemate with the White House.

The House has passed eight of the 12 regular appropriations bills for 2008, and Bush threatened to veto five of them on the grounds that they called for "an irresponsible and excessive level of spending."

As the House took up another spending bill yesterday, dealing with transportation and housing programs, the White House issued another veto threat. The Senate, which has not passed any of the 12 bills, plans to begin considering the first one, for the Department of Homeland Security, today.

In a letter to the president, Democrats Pelosi of California and Reid of Nevada said they hope to reach an agreement with the White House to "avoid a protracted battle over relatively small differences." The disagreement, they said, involves less than 1 percent of the federal budget, about $22 billion in a budget of $2.9 trillion.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Florida Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said she took the veto threats seriously.

"The president has put the executive branch on a collision course with Congress," Wasserman-Schultz said. "He is going to veto some of our appropriations bills."

James P. Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said, "The president is playing to his conservative base, trying to pick a fight with Congress over spending policies."

Asked if the veto threats had had any effect on senators writing the bills for 2008, Manley replied, "None whatsoever."

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, chided congressional Democrats yesterday. "We're concerned that no appropriations bills have yet been sent to the president," he said. "The number of legislative days available before the end of the fiscal year is dwindling."

Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he foresees an impasse that might end late this year with most spending programs thrown together in an omnibus spending bill.

"A legislative train wreck is likely to occur," Lewis said. "Most of our appropriations bills will end up in an omnibus. It will be a well-adorned Christmas tree filled with plenty of legislative goodies, perfectly timed to coincide with the holidays."

Bush has objected to many specific provisions of the 2008 spending bills. He says, for example, that Congress is providing too much home heating assistance for low-income people, too much money for Amtrak and not enough for foreign aid to Pakistan and Colombia.

But he has a more fundamental objection. He proposed $933 billion in spending subject to annual appropriations, and Congress has decided to provide $955 billion of such discretionary spending - $22 billion more than he sought and $81 billion more than Congress provided last year.

Substantial numbers of Republicans have joined Democrats in passing the appropriations bills approved by the House. Some Republicans have called for more spending on biomedical research, education and other domestic programs.

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