Dems ponder sending massive spending measure to Bush

Congressional sources Friday said a plan is under consideration to send roughly 70 percent of the total $955 billion in discretionary spending to President Bush in one fell swoop -- a massive package encompassing the Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bills currently in conference.

Bush has been calling on Democrats to send him the Defense and Military Construction-VA bills, citing those measures as areas of agreement. But Democrats have been holding back, preferring to deal with the budget as a whole before sending him bills piecemeal and leaving the two sides to fight over portions they disagree on.

The Labor-HHS bill contains about half of the total $22 billion difference separating Bush and the Democrats, and represents social services programs Democrats say have been neglected for six years. The Defense and Military Construction-VA bills match Bush's requests, although Democrats shifted roughly $4 billion from the base Pentagon budget to veterans' programs.

If Bush follows through with his threat, Democrats would put him in the position of vetoing the $670 billion package over $10 billion Democrats added for education, health and welfare programs. That would also make it difficult for Republicans to uphold a veto.

Sources said no final decision has been made on the plan, although Democrats are under pressure because Veterans Day is around the corner on Nov. 11, and the current continuing resolution expires Nov. 16.

Also Friday, House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norman Dicks, D-Wash., and Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., requested $1 billion to help fight the wildfires raging in southern California. Dicks earlier this week said wildfire funds could be attached to the Defense measure.

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