YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Bush Threatens to Veto Expanded Anti-Terror Bill


WASHINGTON — An emergency spending bill sought by the White House to pay for anti-terrorism efforts has ballooned in cost so much that President Bush is now threatening to veto it.

Joining Bush in attacking the measure is his erstwhile Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who criticized the bill Tuesday as an exercise in pork-barrel spending that the nation can ill afford.

The version being debated by the Democrat-run Senate totals $31 billion--$4 billion more than the White House requested to beef up anti-terrorism efforts at home and abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The bill's bottom line has increased in part because it is laced with projects that have little to do with domestic and international security--such as $16 million to aid New England fishermen affected by federal fishing restrictions.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Bush's Office of Management Budget said that if the Senate's version of the bill is sent to the White House, senior advisors would recommend it be vetoed. Bush has yet to veto a bill.

In its criticism, the White House found an ally in McCain, who in 2000 was Bush's main challenger for the GOP's presidential nomination and whose legislative initiatives--most notably campaign finance reform--have often put him at odds with Bush.

"The surplus we relied on last year [has] largely disappeared," McCain said. "It is unfortunate in a time of war, our colleagues cannot curb their appetite for non-emergency, wasteful spending."

The administration's veto threat is the opening gambit of what is likely to be an ongoing struggle between Bush and Congress over spending in the next several months. Although Bush and most lawmakers avow concern about the return of budget deficits, there are huge pressures to spend more freely--both in this emergency bill and in the 13 regular appropriation bills that Congress must pass to finance the government in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

The politics of this fall's high-stakes battle for control of the House and Senate are pushing leaders of both parties to back projects that will help vulnerable members win votes. And with national anxiety about terrorism running high, no politician wants to risk stinting on preventive measures.

But McCain complained that the bill before the Senate amounts to "war profiteering, plain and simple" because, he said, it includes political pork masquerading as national security measures.

The measure's proponents said Congress has the right and responsibility to make its own judgments about what it deems urgent spending. They warned that bickering will delay the delivery of needed funds. Even after expected Senate passage of the bill, differences with a version passed by the House must be resolved before a measure is sent to Bush.

"We have to move this train," Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday. "These are resources going to agencies in America that people desperately need."

At issue are emergency appropriations for the Pentagon's military operation in Afghanistan, for homeland security programs operated by the Coast Guard, Justice Department and other domestic agencies and aid to help New York recover from the damage caused by the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Bush requested $27 billion. The House version, passed in May, would provide $29 billion. That includes almost $2 billion for the Pentagon that would be spent only if the administration deemed it necessary--a move that made the bill acceptable to the White House.

The additional money in the Senate bill went too far for the administration and other fiscal conservatives.

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who joined McCain and the White House in complaining about the bill's price tag, questioned $3.5 million added to provide training for journalists in the Middle East. That provision was included at the request of another Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Other Senate add-ons include $10 million in flood relief for several states and $2 million for the Smithsonian Institution to begin planning to move its collection of animals preserved in alcohol away from downtown Washington. Proponents say the containers are a flammable hazard that should be located somewhere else.

Los Angeles Times Articles