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Congress, Bush Split Grows on Spending

November 07, 2001|JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Tensions between Congress and the White House mounted on crucial economic and fiscal matters Tuesday as President Bush threatened to veto bipartisan efforts to increase spending on homeland security measures.

At the same time, Senate Democrats put themselves on a collision course with Bush on another front as they announced plans to push an economic stimulus bill of their own that is opposed by Bush and the GOP.

The decision to push that bill, which provides aid to the unemployed and tax cuts for businesses and individuals, sets the stage for a protracted struggle that guarantees no tax relief will reach consumers before the end of the year.

Those developments dealt a double-barreled blow to hopes that Congress could work with Bush in a bipartisan fashion in measures responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the economic downturn that has followed.

Bush's veto threat on spending increases put him at odds with Democrats and even some of his fellow Republicans, who have been angling to provide more for anti-terrorism efforts than the $40 billion provided earlier this fall.

Senate Democrats plan to push for an additional $20 billion for combating bioterrorism, tightening transportation security and other infrastructure projects.

Democrats are not alone. Even the Republican chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young of Florida, on Tuesday proposed $2 billion more than what the administration is seeking for homeland security measures, as well as an additional $6 billion for defense.

But in a White House meeting Tuesday with congressional leaders of both parties, Bush bluntly said he would veto any bill that provided more money than the $40 billion for anti-terrorism initiatives and homeland security that has already been provided.

He did not respond to arguments by members of both parties to the contrary. "We all felt additional funds were needed, because this is an emergency," said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.).

Young and others requested additional talks with the administration in hopes of changing the administration's views.

"Their position is untenable, and that's not where the votes are," said John Scofield, spokesman for Young. He said the House would not vote on the defense budget until the dispute is resolved.

However, the administration has been struggling to hold the line on congressional spending--even on defense--for fear that the current crisis will be used as an excuse for a spending spree.

On another front, Democrats announced that the Senate Finance Committee would vote Thursday on a measure that seemed destined to split lawmakers along party lines.

The Democratic bill would pour $70 billion into the economy in 2002 for aid to unemployed workers and tax breaks for businesses and individuals. The Democrats' $20-billion homeland security spending plan is expected to be added to the bill later.

The Democratic proposal provides far more in aid for the unemployed and far less in tax cuts for businesses than did the Republican bill passed by the House more than a week ago. That contrast traces the fault line that separates the parties on what exactly should be done to shore up the economy, a question that took on new urgency with last week's report of surging unemployment.

Democrats have argued for an economic "recovery" plan that would help workers who have lost their jobs and health insurance as a result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the broader recession. Tax cuts, they say, should favor individuals over businesses. Republicans, by contrast, argue for pouring money into business enterprises that will invest and create jobs.

The chances of cross-party agreement seemed greater in the narrowly divided Senate, where there are 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one Independent who usually votes with the Democrats. It is generally assumed it would take 60 votes to pass the bill because that is what it would take to break a filibuster.

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Times staff writer Nick Anderson contributed to this report.

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