WASHINGTON – The White House promised again Wednesday it will block attempts by Democrats controlling Congress to add billions of dollars for domestic programs to a must-pass war funding bill.
In testimony prepared for a midday Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, White House budget director Jim Nussle chides lawmakers for a "sky is the limit mind-set" regarding "the desire of some in Congress to load up this troop funding bill with tens of billions in additional spending."
Last week, President Bush vowed to veto the upcoming war funding bill if lawmakers add beyond his $108 billion request. But many lawmakers view the bill as an attractive vehicle to carry Democratic spending proposals aimed at stimulating the economy, such as road projects, extended unemployment benefits and a summer jobs program.
"The president has made clear that he will veto any attempt to hijack this much-needed troop funding bill," Nussle said in his prepared remarks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Bush's policies divisive and said his hard line on domestic spending has left many people "out in the dark, in the cold."
"The president after all this time, seven-plus years (in office), you would think that he is not King George. He's President George. And he should work with us," Reid, D-Nev., said at a news conference.
Last year, Democrats succeeded in adding $17 billion in domestic spending to Bush's request, disappointing GOP conservatives who thought Bush should have adopted a tougher line. Bush played a stronger hand late in the year as Democrats, for the most part, stuck to his bottom-line budget demands when passing a catchall spending bill funding domestic agency budgets for the current fiscal year.
"We will once again take good care of our troops. But we must also invest in our own economy and take care of our people here at home," committee Chairman Robert Byrd said in his own set of prepared remarks. "To fail to do so will only further dampen our economy, work a hardship on our citizens, and deplete our ability to pay these endless, ever-climbing requests for more money to fund this war in Iraq."
The hearing serves as a sort of test for the health and vigor of 90-year-old Byrd, D-W.Va. He has looked increasingly frail in recent weeks after suffering a fall at his home and a subsequent infection. He has been hospitalized twice and has maintained a lighter schedule since being released.
There has been increasing speculation about whether Byrd is up to chairing the panel. The topic was discussed at a recent meeting of top Senate Democrats, but Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has stood by him. Byrd has also received public promises of support from several members of the panel, including those rumored to favor easing him out.
Still, Byrd's performance at Wednesday's hearing will be scrutinized by fellow senators wondering whether he is up to handling the war funding bill.