Bush Set to Battle Democrats over Spending

President Bush is threatening to veto several domestic spending bills, including a congressional plan to expand a health insurance program for children.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush goes to New York today for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Before he headed to New York, he spoke this morning, about the budget. The president is threatening to veto several domestic spending bills along with a congressional plan to expand a health insurance program for children.

Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts, as we do every morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The president is zeroing in on a host of spending bills. Why this flurry veto threats?

ROBERTS: Well, he hasn't vetoed any spending bills since he's been president and he's gotten a lot of flack from a lot of Republicans for that. Now the truth is, is while the Republicans controlled Congress, they were the ones passing the spending bills and he didn't want to antagonize them and needed them for a lot of other things. And quite frankly, spending is popular. The - it is useful in your district to be able to go home and say I brought you this - and this cost money. But now that the Democrats are in control, the president is feeling that it's possible to say that he will veto some of this spending. He will get some flack, still, on it because it is so popular and no one has ever really succeeded politically by saying I'm for balancing the budget. It's great rhetoric, but it never really works on the individual front.

So, we'll see what he vetoes and what happens after the vetoes because the Democrats certainly don't have the votes to override him on any of these.

MONTAGNE: Now, the prospect of a veto on health care for children is a bit dicey because many Republicans support that measure. What's the thinking in the White House?

ROBERTS: Well, I think there that it really is an ideological question - that the president thinks that the bill for children's health is too expansive, that it includes too many children who are not poor or working poor, really middle-class children. And that it sends more people into government financed health care rather than privately financed health care.

The problem here for the president is that the politics of it are just terrible for him. And the Democrats have been very clever on this. They worked hard with the Republicans to come up with a compromise so that they have got a bill that they can send to the president before the program runs out - which is scheduled to do at the end of this week - and say the president is vetoing health care for children at a time when the - when they won't have it if he really does go through with the veto.

This is politically probably the toughest thing that you can do. The fact is that this president came in, saying that he wanted to expand the Republican Party. He understood that the base, which is essentially white men and evangelical Christians, is not enough of the country to be a majority. But the war, of course, has driven away a lot of independents. The immigration battle has driven away Hispanics. And this will be very tough for women, because women will react to the notion of vetoing health care for children. So I think that this going to be very hard on the Republican Party.

MONTAGNE: You know, just in a few seconds on the subject, Senator Hillary Clinton has introduced her health care plan. How is that issue working for her?

ROBERTS: She's been attacked by both sides, by her Democratic opponents for president and Republicans, but it's really working well for her. She's had quite a week in terms of the press. Yesterday she did what's called a Full Ginsburg - she went on all five Sunday talk shows. That's named after Monica Lewinsky's lawyer who is the person who did that first. And has just gone forward, given her ideas and done it in a fashion that has seemed so solid that she just stays there in front of the pack on the Democratic side.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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