Bush vetoes domestic spending bill on health, education and jobs
President George W. Bush vetoed a major spending measure on Tuesday that would have funded education, health care and job training programs, saying it contained too many special projects, even as he signed a $459 billion bill to increase the Pentagon’s non-war funding.
The veto, of a measure providing $150.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, was announced as Bush was en route to southern Indiana to deliver an economics speech at which, his spokeswoman said, he would criticize Congress for its “wasteful spending.”
It guaranteed a new round of wrangling with the Democrats who control Congress over war costs and domestic spending priorities.
The president’s criticisms of Congress’s spending priorities have grown steadily more pointed. But in her immediate response to the veto, the Democratic speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi, seemed to be trying to hold her fire, keeping open the possibility of reaching compromise but saying the president need to help in finding “common ground.”
The veto announcement also came as top Democratic lawmakers were unveiling a new study on the “hidden costs” of the Iraq and Afghan wars. They said that if one included such factors as the higher cost of oil, lost productivity and interest payments on money borrowed to finance the wars, the real costs would nearly double, to more than $1.5 trillion.
The report, from Democrats on Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, said that the administration had spent or requested $804 billion to wage the two wars through the end of 2008.
But experts say it is difficult to project war costs into the future; and although oil prices have surged to well above $90 a barrel from about $37 a barrel in 2003, it is difficult to determine war’s precise contribution to that increase.
The Defense Department measure includes a stopgap spending bill that will finance operations of most federal agencies at 2007 levels through Dec. 14.
Congress is still working on a bill to provide a fresh infusion of money for the Iraq war while requiring Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, attacked both the veto and the level of war spending. “Cancer research, investments in our schools, job training, protecting workers and many other urgent priorities have all fallen victim to a president who squanders billions of dollars in Iraq but is unwilling to invest in America’s future,” he said.
And Representative David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, denounced the veto as “pure politics.”
Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said the vetoed measure exceeded the president’s fiscal target by $10 billion and included 2,000 earmarks. “We call on Congress to take out the pork and reduce the overall spending levels and return it to the president,” Perino told reporters traveling with Bush on Air Force One, according to a transcript released by the White House.
Democrats seized on the most sensitive aspects of the bill.
Pelosi said the vetoed measure was “a bipartisan and fiscally responsible bill that addresses the priorities of the American people,” from cancer research to veterans’ health care. “At the same time,” she said, “President Bush and his congressional allies demand hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Iraq – none of it paid for.”
“Democrats have offered to work cooperatively with the president to address the priorities of our nation,” she added. “We believe our differences are not so great that compromise cannot be reached. But the president must work with us finding common ground.”
Bush’s tone, in his speech in Indiana, was less conciliatory.
“The Congress now sitting in Washington holds this philosophy,” he said, according to an advance text of the speech. “Their majority was elected on a pledge of fiscal responsibility, but so far it is acting like a teenager with a new credit card.”
“This year alone, leaders in Congress are proposing to spend $22 billion more than my budget provides,” he said. “Some of them claim this is not really much of a difference, and the scary part is that they seem to mean it.”
Robert Pear contributed reporting from New Albany, Indiana.