The White House has warned Congress that President Bush might veto a huge spending bill nearing final passage if lawmakers use "mechanisms" to evade limits set by the administration.
House and Senate negotiators, meeting behind closed doors, are racing to complete the gigantic package that will fund most federal agencies through September. Republican leaders said they hope final votes on a compromise version could occur next week in both chambers.
But in a six-page letter delivered late Tuesday to senior members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. cited a number of "objectionable provisions." He said it is important that the budget target of $385.9 billion "be reached transparently."
To stay under the ceiling, negotiators are considering a variety of budgetary maneuvers, such as charging some spending to the fiscal 2004 budget in order to immediately provide more money for education in the fiscal 2003 budget. The Senate-passed spending bill added billions of dollars above the president's top line for the education of people with disabilities, drought relief for farmers, doctors in the Medicare program and election reform.
The administration has signaled that it supports drought aid, but it wants it to be funded from money that Congress appropriated last year for farm programs. GOP congressional leaders, therefore, must thread a careful path as they navigate between the farmers and the White House.
Daniels said that "excessive use of advanced appropriations or other mechanisms that would circumvent the spending limits" would result in a recommendation that Bush veto the spending bill. He said the House and Senate versions of the package "include numerous unacceptable provisions that undermine implementation of the Homeland Security Act," which Congress passed last fall.
Daniels also objected to House language that would weaken the U.S. sanctions against trade with and travel to Cuba; to the Senate version's omission of limits on the use of federal funds for abortion; and to various provisions that appear to infringe on presidential authority in foreign affairs.
The $31.8 billion the Senate set aside for highway construction far exceeds the funds received from federal gasoline taxes. The Senate plan, Daniels warned, "would put the program on a path to an inevitable gas tax increase, which the administration opposes."
Daniels expressed disappointment at congressional cuts in the administration's requests elsewhere, including funding for bioterrorism defense and research, and for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada.