WASHINGTON (AP) President Bush promised congressional leaders yesterday he would veto any emergency legislation that exceeds the $40 billion Congress has already provided for anti-terrorism efforts.
The pledge, which the president conveyed to leading lawmakers at a White House meeting, put Bush in the position of opposing Democrats and some Republicans who say more money is needed to finance an escalating war in Afghanistan and to protect the country from bioterrorism, more airline hijackings and other threats.
Bush told the leaders that the $40 billion was “enough … and he”ll veto anything over that,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) told a reporter.
And one senior administration official present at the meeting said that according to notes he took, Bush said, “If I need to, I”ll veto the bill.”
Citing a worry that federal spending will skyrocket out of control, the White House with the support of GOP congressional leaders wants any additional increases to be postponed until next year.
At the Roosevelt Room meeting, White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels told the leaders that though the $40 billion emergency package was approved just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, only about $3 billion has been spent so far, said one official familiar with the session.
By January, about $21.7 billion is likely to be committed to spending, Daniels said.
Hastert and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) support the president”s position. But that view is disputed by Democrats and many Republicans on the House and Senate Appropriations committees, which control much of the $2 trillion federal budget.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) has proposed an additional $20 billion aimed at securing highways, airports, water systems, food safety and buttressing law enforcement and other programs. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) has also called for more money for the FBI, Coast Guard, the border patrol and airline security.
Asked about living within the initial $40 billion package, Young told reporters earlier in the day, “That doesn”t sit well with a lot of members on both sides of the aisle who recognize, as I do, that there are other needs that aren”t being met.”
The spending dispute has been escalating for weeks, even as the federal budget outlook for the new year has steadily dimmed.
Last August, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected a $176 billion surplus for fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1. But as the economy has stagnated and the expected costs of battling terrorism have grown, congressional budget writers have estimated that there will probably be a double-digit billion dollar deficit.