WASHINGTON — President Bush intensified his budget dispute with congressional Democrats on Friday as he stepped before cameras at the White House and blasted them for failing to complete the federal spending bills.
"Congress needs to keep their promise, to stop wasting time and get essential work done," said the president, who criticized Democrats for failing to send him a single appropriations bill by Friday, a level of tardiness unmatched by Congress in two decades.
Though Democrats last month passed an emergency measure to fund the federal government through Nov. 16, they have not finished work on any of the 12 spending measures Congress is supposed to pass by Oct. 1.
Bush's attack drew a quick retort from Democratic leaders, who said they were trying to correct the administration's seven-year record of excessive and irresponsible spending.
"The president fails to grasp a basic tenet of fiscal responsibility: You must pay for what you spend," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who in recent weeks has contrasted the growing cost of the war in Iraq with that of domestic needs, such as children's healthcare.
Under Bush and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill, federal spending grew by nearly 50% between fiscal years 2001 and 2007, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. At the same time, as the president presided over repeated budget deficits, the federal debt has ballooned to about $5 trillion. Last year, the Republican Congress sent only two appropriations bills to the president.
Democrats pledged to be better budgetary stewards when they assumed the majority in January. Earlier this year, they passed rules to ensure that new spending and tax cuts are offset to keep the budget in balance.
While claiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have not completed the spending bills that keep the federal government running.
The House passed all 12, but the Senate has completed only seven. And amid debates and votes on the war in Iraq, children's health insurance and other divisive issues, Democratic leaders have not reconciled differences between any of the spending measures approved by both chambers.
At the same time, Democrats are engaged in an increasingly sharp confrontation with the White House over the amount of spending in the bills that have been approved.
Bush, who never vetoed an appropriations bill passed by a Republican Congress, this year has promised to veto any that are over his proposed budget.
Democrats point out that the difference between their bills and the president's budget is $22 billion, a fraction of the $200 billion Bush has requested in emergency funding for this fiscal year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.