Congress to Seek Extension on Budget Deadline

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The federal government's fiscal year ends Sunday. So far, none of the 12 annual spending bills Congress must pass have been completed. Lawmakers are seeking a six-week extension, putting off a showdown with the president.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The end of the federal government's fiscal year is this coming Sunday, and Congress has yet to send any of the 12 bills that fund government operations to the president. So the House will vote today on a temporary budget extension until mid-November, putting office showdown with the president until then.

President Bush says he'll veto spending bills that are too big. And Democratic Congressional leaders are not sure if they want confrontation or a compromise, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: In his speech to business leaders the other day, President Bush signaled to Congress that he's spoiling for a fight.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: If they think that by waiting until just before they leave for the year to send me a bill that is way over budget and thicker than a phonebook, they think that's going to force me to sign it, it's not.

NAYLOR: The fight is over who gets to claim the mantel of fiscal responsibility. While Republicans controlled Congress, spending rose as did deficits and the president went along. Now, Democrats control the purse strings and the president is trying to rein them in. The battle is over the 12 annual spending bills, funding everything from national parks to national defense.

Mr. Bush is threatening to veto most of them because he says they spend too much. But so far not one of those bills has gone through Congress and onto the White House. That's why the House will take up a temporary spending bill today. It will extend funding for government programs at current levels until mid-November, then the fight begins.

It's looking more likely Congress will try to get around all the vetoes by sending the president a measure that lumps all the spending bills together, something Republican Congress has did too, and which the president signed. That's the phonebook approach, which the president now says he is rejecting.

Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin; Chairman, House Appropriations Committee): I think the president would veto a blank page if he could simply because he's trying to take on the posture of Mr. Tough. What he really needs to do and what we really need to do is to simply sit down and work out our differences.

NAYLOR: That's David Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He says Democrats want their priorities funded in the budget on things like education, health care and science. That would increase spending some $22 billion above the levels sought by the president, which Obey says, comparatively speaking, isn't that much.

Rep. OBEY: We have tried to increase his domestic funding by about two percent, which is a far smaller amount than the $200 billion he wants to pump into Iraq.

NAYLOR: And that's a sticking point for many Democrats. The White House is expected to ask for another $50 billion for the war in Iraq as soon as today on top of the $150 billion or so it's already asked Congress to approve for next year.

Some Democrats like Robert Byrd of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, say they won't vote for any addition money for Iraq unless there are conditions such as a timetable for withdrawing troops.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia; Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee): Strings must be attached to this money. This senator will support no more, no more, no more blank checks for Iraq.

NAYLOR: Congress has tried to attach strings to Iraq funding bills before, but they've either failed to clear a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate or have been vetoed by the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he won't shy away from another confrontation with Mr. Bush.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): You know, White House is talking about nearly $200 billion to fund the war. We're spending now almost $12 billion a week on the war in Iraq. And we're going to deal with the president's supplemental. We have an obligation to do that, but I think it's fair to say that we're not just going to sign off on that without a whimper.

NAYLOR: Add that to a showdown expected over an expanded children's health insurance program the president is promising to veto. And it looks to be a contentious autumn in Washington.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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