Bush signs Defense bills, urges action on homeland security

President Bush Wednesday signed two Defense spending bills and again demanded quick congressional action to create a Homeland Security Department.

President Bush Wednesday demanded quick congressional action on homeland security, saying Congress should pass legislation establishing a new Homeland Security Department and funding proposed homeland defense initiatives.

Provisions related to homeland security are included in fiscal 2003 appropriations bills that Congress failed to complete before recessing last week. Lawmakers hope to make quick work of spending measures during a November lame-duck session.

"There's still important work to complete," Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony where he signed the $355 billion Defense and $10.5 billion Military Construction spending bills. "For example, Congress has yet to act on my proposal to nearly double overall funding for homeland defense, including my request for unprecedented funding levels for police and firefighters and emergency medical personnel who are on the front lines of defending our citizens," he said.

Although Bush attached some urgency to congressional funding of these initiatives, the White House previously said the president would accept a continuing resolution lasting until early next year, a move that could deny the programs extra funding for several months. Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels suggested in mid-September and again just three weeks ago that if the Defense spending bill were passed, a CR extending into early next year would be acceptable.

However, asked Wednesday whether the administration would still allow a CR extending into early next year, OMB spokesman called the prospect "hypothetical" and noted Daniels' previous statements had been made before Congress passed a clean CR lasting until Nov. 22.

"Congress has acted-there's been some developments," he said. While Daniels has always preferred that Congress proceed with regular order and finish up its work, the spokesman added, Daniels has "always said" he would "leave it up to Congress on the duration of a CR."

The OMB spokesman also raised the possibility that a new CR could include some of Bush's spending requests, but added, "we're talking about a hypothetical that Congress and the White House will work out when Congress returns."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Wednesday said Bush continues to insist that Congress limit spending to the amount of the House budget resolution, which is $9 billion below the Senate level. The $355 billion fiscal 2003 Defense appropriations bill increases defense spending by more than $37 billion, Bush said.

Congress has not approved a separate $10 billion contingency defense fund Bush requested. The Defense and Military Construction spending bills, the other fiscal 2003 appropriations bills remain in limbo. The Senate has only passed one other appropriations bill, Legislative Branch, although its appropriations panel has marked up all its fiscal 2003 bills.

The House, meanwhile, has passed three other bills besides the defense-related measures-Legislative Branch, Treasury-Postal and Interior.