ROGERS, Arkansas – With Democrats now in charge of the budget, President Bush admonished Congress on Monday for failing to send him a single spending bill yet and warned lawmakers to trim their plans or face rejection.
"You're fixin' to see what they call a fiscal showdown in Washington," Bush told a friendly audience in this northwest Arkansas community.
"The Congress gets to propose, and if it doesn't meet needs as far as I'm concerned, I get to veto," Bush said. "That's precisely what I intend to do."
Bush never vetoed a spending bill when his party ran Congress, but he is dug in for a challenge now. He said the Democrats' plans would raise taxes and prevent the country from balancing the budget. Conservative House Republicans appear to have the votes to sustain his promised vetoes.
The budget year began Oct. 1, and federal agencies are operating on a stopgap bill for now. Congress has not yet agreed on the 12 spending bills that keep the government running.
"Congress needs to be responsible with your money and they need to pass these appropriations bills — one at a time," Bush said, roaming the stage. "And then we can work together to see whether or not they make fiscal sense for the United States."
For a president short on domestic victories, the White House sees fiscal discipline as a winning argument for Bush: a chance to label the opposition in tax-and-spend terms.
In the budget stalemate, Democrats are pressing to spend about $22 billion (euro15.5 billion) more on domestic programs than Bush wants. Education, health research and low-income housing grants are among the issues on which Bush and Democratic leaders disagree.
Given the budget's scope, a difference in the range of $20 billion (euro14 billion) between Bush and Congress is "trivial in economic terms," said Sidney Weintraub, an expert on trade and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"But they think it might have a payoff in political terms," Weintraub said of Bush and fellow Republicans. "I think the Democrats will play this as 'We're more responsible on budget issues than Republicans are,' and this is their way of saying it isn't so."
Bush has already vetoed legislation that would have raised spending on a popular children's health insurance program $35 billion (euro24.6 billion) over five years. Bush has called for a $5 billion (euro3.5 billion) increase and he defended his position again in his remarks in Rogers, Arkansas.
Bush has offered to accept a bigger spending increase on the program to get a deal done with Democrats. But he and his aides will not say how high he is willing to go.
"We're not going to negotiate through the media on this," deputy press secretary Tony Fratto told reporters on Air Force One on Monday. "The goal has to be to get the policy right — what are the principles behind the policy — and then see what the numbers are."
The House will vote to override his veto Thursday, but it is expected to fall short.