President Bush blocked $5.1 billion that Congress had approved for homeland security, including millions of dollars for the nation's firefighters, and scolded lawmakers on Tuesday for lumping in unrelated projects he didn't want.
"A limited and focused government is essential to a growing economy and if the Congress won't show spending restraint, I intend to enforce spending restraint," Bush said Tuesday, announcing his decision at an economic forum he convened in Texas.
Democrats representing New York and the site of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center site expressed strong disagreement with his action. Included in the $5.1 billion that Bush rejected was $90 million for long-term health monitoring of emergency workers at Ground Zero, and $150 million for equipment and training grants to some of the nation's 18,000 fire departments with requests pending.
"Today, the president has slapped many of America's heroes across the face," said Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes lower Manhattan.
Bush did it "merely to flex his muscle to Congress," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
Indeed, Bush said he was sending a message to Congress, which gave him an all-or-nothing choice on the $5.1 billion slice of an emergency spending bill that he signed into law little more than one week ago.
"A lot of that money has nothing to do with national emergency," Bush said Tuesday. "I understand their position and today they're going to learn mine -- we'll spend none of it."
He said he would quickly ask Congress to resubmit to him separate funds for "truly pressing needs and priorities," which he identified as $200 million for AIDS prevention and $250 million that was to be divided between security aid for Israel and disaster assistance for Palestinians.
Bush singled out for ridicule the package's $2 million to build what he derided as "a new facility for storing the government's collection of bugs and worms," a Smithsonian Institution project included in his own budget request in February.
Joe Minarik, policy director for House Budget Committee Democrats, said congressional Republicans and Democrats alike accelerated money for the project because the Smithsonian's specimen collection is currently preserved in 730,000 gallons of highly flammable alcohol just blocks from the White House.
"The issue is that, in theory, we have a potential bomb sitting there and it's in the middle of the mall in Washington," said Minarik.
Other items denied money under Bush's decision:
--$100 million to improve the communications systems of firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel nationwide. Radio problems hindered rescue workers' response to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 because the various agencies' radios could not communicate with each other.
--$39 million to improve and increase inspections of the 6 million cargo containers entering the country each year.
--$82 million to enhance the FBI's counterterrorism technology.
--$165 million to strengthen security around food and water supplies.
--$400 million for election reform.
--$50 million for flood prevention.
--$98 million for emergency highway repairs in 18 states, including repair of the Interstate 40 bridge recently destroyed in Oklahoma.
--$17.9 million for Wisconsin's effort to combat chronic wasting disease.
--$275 million for veterans' medical care.