WASHINGTON – A Democratic plan to sharply boost the Homeland Security Department budget ran into a stern White House veto promise Tuesday as House debate loomed on the first of a dozen annual spending bills.
President Bush has not vetoed a domestic spending bill, and the homeland security measure is among the most popular with lawmakers. It is, however, larger than Bush requested.
The bill would provide $37.4 billion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, a 6 percent increase over Bush's request to hire an additional 3,000 border agents and nearly triple Bush's request for grants to train and equip first responders.
The Homeland Security Department has been among the few domestic Cabinet agencies to receive sizable and steady increases in recent years. Bush has sought to clamp down on the domestic agency budgets passed each year by Congress, while funding for the Pentagon and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has soared.
Bush's February budget submission seeks to cap spending at Congress' annual discretion at $933 billion, with the bulk of a $60 billion increase devoted to defense and homeland security.
The Democratic budget plan would add $23 billion for domestic programs such as education, health care and personnel costs, and shift another $3.5 billion from the Pentagon budget to non-defense accounts.
But the White House on Tuesday called such moves "irresponsible and excessive" and vowed veto after veto of Democratic spending bills that exceed Bush's requests.
Girding for the challenge, Democrats have front-loaded floor debates with difficult-to-veto bills such as the homeland security measure and another bill funding veterans programs.
The homeland security measure boosts border enforcement spending and awards a slight increase for the Transportation Security Administration, including a big increase to purchase explosive detectors at airports.
The Coast Guard's Deepwater program, the severely troubled program to upgrade the agency's aging ships and planes, would absorb a more than 50 percent cut from current levels.
Earlier Tuesday, the appropriations panel approved a $34.2 billion measure for foreign aid and the State Department, but that measure likely also faces a veto even though it's one of the bills that trims from Bush's budget.
That's because the foreign aid bill would allow international family planning groups cut off from U.S. aid because they provide or promote abortion to gain access to U.S.-donated contraceptives.
Democrats left intact the Reagan-era policy of banning aid to groups that provide or promote abortions. The bill allows for donations of contraceptives, but no money, for those groups that have been denied U.S. aid because of their abortion policies.
The bill includes $4.15 billion in bilateral aid to fight the global AIDS epidemic, up $1.3 billion from the fiscal 2007 level, and another $550 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
But as Republicans did before them, Democrats slashed Bush's request for the Millennium Challenge Corp., which channels foreign aid to countries implementing economic and political reforms.