Bush threatens to veto additional security spending

Congressional appropriators left a White House meeting with President Bush Tuesday night, no closer to an agreement over spending to fight terrorism, after Bush threatened to veto any bill exceeding the $686 billion cap on the 13 regular bills and the $40 billion supplemental already passed.

Capitol Hill's four top appropriators pressed their case for additional funds and congressional leaders at the meeting broke along party lines, with GOP leaders backing the President and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt supporting more security spending.

Although several sources called the meeting contentious, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., lauded the session as "the kind of straight talk we need at this critical juncture."

Still, Byrd did not pull any punches in advising the President not to wait until next spring to request another supplemental. Byrd said he told Bush: "Bin Laden's not going to wait until next spring. He's not going to wait for a supplemental."

Byrd and House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D- Wis., both advocate a $20 billion domestic security spending package in addition to the supplemental.

Increasingly Tuesday, the spending flap--plus growing difficulties with other legislation--appeared to threaten chances for adjournment by Nov. 16, when the current continuing resolution will expire.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said if appropriators decide they want to work with the president, Congress could get its work done. But he added, "If they don't-- if they basically shove it in his face--then we'll be a while."

The spending package and the stimulus bill are among several items that could keep Congress from leaving before Thanksgiving. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., mentioned five legislative priorities as the session concludes: appropriations bills, airport security, bioterrorism legislation, the stimulus package and the farm bill.

Daschle said he hoped Republicans would not filibuster the stimulus package, which he plans to bring up next week, and said Democrats were prepared to hold several cloture votes if needed to complete the bill. Daschle said senators were prepared to work full-time, five-day weeks to get it done. "We'll even work six days a week to do this," Daschle said.

Obey offered a harsh assessment of the White House meeting, which Bush opened with his veto threat and closed without reacting to appropriators' attempt to give him more money for the war, as "the most imperious action I've ever seen."

Also present were Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Defense, Transportation and Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittees. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Lott and Gephardt attended--but not Daschle.

Byrd said the fiscal 2002 Defense bill, which will carry the supplemental title at issue between the White House and appropriators, will be the year's biggest fight.

"That's where Armageddon will come," Byrd said.

House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said again Tuesday that he does not have the votes to get the bill out of committee with a supplemental title limited to $20 billion.

Of the total $40 billion supplemental approved after the Sept. 11 attacks, $20 billion was put at the administration's disposal to allocate, and $20 billion left to the regular appropriations process.

Young said another $2 billion is needed simply to meet the needs of the FBI, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, public health agencies and airport security.

That sum does not cover additional spending for the Pentagon or the recovery efforts in New York--alone promised $20 billion out of the supplemental, he said.

But Young and Senate Appropriations ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska--both eager to avoid a veto showdown with the President--also pushed hard in the hour-long session for Bush to let them designate any funding beyond the $40 billion as a "contingent emergency." That way, the president would have the option to decide whether to spend those funds by formally designating them for emergency use.

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., also favored that option--which he said the President might not have appreciated until it was presented to him at the meeting.

"The commander-in-chief would have all the cards that way," said Lewis. "I would suggest his advisers revisit that question."

Noting that more money for national defense could be needed before year's end to keep fighting the war, Lewis said he would prefer that the administration have additional money "in reserve," rather than "run out of money in the second quarter."

Lott said that Bush made it clear that he wanted Congress to stick to the agreement to spend $686 billion in discretionary funds, plus $40 billion in emergency spending and $15 billion for the airline bailout.

"I think he's concerned about spending just spiraling out of control," Lott said. "I share that concern.... All the president is asking for is a modicum of restraint."

Lott said Republicans had the votes to sustain a presidential veto if the spending package were added to the economic stimulus bill on the floor.

Explaining his own view, Lott said, "I have been for every transportation spending bill invented by mankind." But he added, "This bill, at this time, under this cover, is more than I can choke down."

Stevens said he had told Bush, "I didn't think he has to veto the bills." Stevens said the President already would have to sign off on any new emergency spending.

"There's obviously a gap between what we perceive to be the need and what they perceive to be the need," Stevens said.

According to a senior GOP leadership aide, "It seems as if all four appropriators are working against the President."

Despite the apparent impasse, Young and Byrd both hoped an agreement could be hammered out. And a spokesman for Hastert said GOP leaders would work to resolve the dispute with appropriators and not put Bush in the position of vetoing a spending bill.

"The speaker is not going to let it get to that point," the spokesman said.

Nevertheless, Hastert backs the President's position on spending. "If you don't get a hold of spending, you'll never have balanced budgets again," the Hastert spokesman said.

Gephardt attended the session but did not speak. An aide said any White House agreement to cap spending should be scrapped in light of the new spending needs following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, particularly for homeland security.

"The agreement that they signed ... was signed before Sept. 11," the Democratic aide said. "We may need to do more for homeland security."