WASHINGTON – President Bush and Congress are butting heads over how much more money the government should spend to bail out an economy that was already slumping before the attacks on Sept. 11.
Bush held what White House aides call an almost angry meeting with congressional appropriators Tuesday afternoon. The president flatly warned them that, if they try and spend any more than the $40 billion he's already approved for anti-terrorism programs, he would veto the proposal.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V. reportedly told Bush to go right ahead. "That's when Armeggedon will come," he said.
Byrd said parents are afraid to take their kids to school, and the government can help restore a sense of security. He has proposed a $20 billion homeland defense bill aimed at securing highways, airports, water systems, food safety and buttressing law enforcement and other programs.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Wednesday that he has heard a lot of "really innovative ideas" from industry representatives, but none is related to Sept. 11.
"We have a lot of great ideas of where money should or could be spent. Many of them that are very attractive to me," Lott said, adding that the president and Congress agreed to a budget deal on Oct. 5 that was $20 billion more than planned earlier in the spring.
He said discretionary spending in the budget is already $90 billion more than last year.
Lawmakers say more money is needed for the FBI, the Coast Guard, for food safety and other public health programs. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has even said it's going to be difficult for legislators to vote against those measures if they think they will help.
The president told legislators that if additional emergency spending is necessary next spring, then he will ask for it.
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is dropping any effort to negotiate an economic stimulus deal with the GOP.
Instead, he is proposing a $67 billion plan to the committee Thursday that will offer fewer tax breaks for businesses than the House and Bush want. The plan will also earmark more aid for the unemployed, including a temporary health insurance subsidy.
Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said he thinks the measure will "barely" pass out of committee, but will not earn enough votes to pass on the Senate floor, because supporters will need 60 votes to overcome blocking tactics. The Senate has 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one Independent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.