Bush, GOP criticize Dems for slow progress on spending bills

President Bush on Monday criticized the Democratic Congress for failing to send him any of the fiscal 2008 appropriations bills as the fiscal year enters its third week.

"You're fixing to see what they call a fiscal showdown in Washington," Bush said Monday in Rogers, Ark., where he repeated his threat to veto bills that contain what he calls excess spending. Bush criticized Congress for its failure to finish the spending bills.

"The fiscal year ended Sept. 30 and I haven't seen one appropriations bill," he said.

The sides are locked in a stalemate over Democratic plans to spend about $23 billion more than the $933 billion Bush wants. The president characterizes the proposed increases as "irresponsible and excessive," while Democrats say most of the additions, roughly $17 billion, are merely to restore funding to levels needed to maintain services.

The GOP track record during the past six years was only slightly better in terms of getting appropriations signed into law, averaging two to three bills completed before the end of the fiscal year, despite general agreement on spending levels; Bush never criticized Republicans for failing to get the other bills done.

The latest GOP tack is to highlight the holdup for military and veterans' programs. The House and Senate have approved a $109 billion Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, which Bush has said he will sign despite its price tag being $4 billion above his request. The Senate appointed its conferees, but the House has not, eyeing the bill's potential leverage with the White House to carry additional domestic funds.

Seeking to exploit the delay, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Monday took the unusual step of announcing the House GOP conferees on the Military Construction-VA measure, prodding Democratic leaders to do the same.

"Political gamesmanship should never trump health care, housing and other benefits for our troops and veterans, and work on this important bill should not be delayed for another day," Boehner said in a statement.

Senior House Democratic leadership aides dismissed the GOP attacks as little more than rhetoric, arguing that Republicans are aware that taking any appropriations bill off the negotiating table would give the White House more negotiating power. Democrats are specifically concerned about Bush using any increases in veteran's funding signed into law as an excuse to call for cuts in other Democratic funding priorities.

"We have to look at the appropriations bills as a big picture, not individual pieces," said one top Democratic leadership staffer. "Why would you move the ones that Bush has said, 'Yes, I will sign' and Republicans back?"

With such calculations in mind, Democratic leaders are delaying any final decisions on how they will move forward with the appropriation process until after the Senate finishes the always-controversial Labor-Health and Human Services spending bill. Democratic aides say that bill, which displays the sharpest differences in funding priorities between Bush and the Democrats, could be the first fiscal 2008 appropriations bill to make it to Bush's desk for an expected veto.

An aide for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republicans have no business lecturing Democrats on fiscal issues.

"With their record of deficit spending and failures to fund our nation's crucial priorities, Republicans should be spending their time helping us to correct their egregious fiscal irresponsibility and to meet national needs instead of engaging in PR stunts and spin campaigns," he said.

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.

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