NEW ALBANY, Indiana (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Tuesday vetoed a measure to fund education, job training and health programs, marking the sixth veto of his presidency and the latest salvo in a fight with congressional Democrats over domestic spending.
Bush signed a separate bill to give the Pentagon about $460 billion for the fiscal year that began on October 1, even though he was disappointed the military bill had less money than he had sought. Even so, the Pentagon would get about $40 billion more than last year, a 9 percent increase.
The White House said the bill to fund labor and human services was bloated and filled with special projects. The $600 billion measure was about $10 billion more than what Bush requested.
Bush and the Democratic-led Congress have been locked in a heated budget battle for months, with each side accusing the other of fiscal irresponsibility.
Democrats who wrested control of Congress last year from Bush’s Republican Party campaigned in part on criticisms over the budget deficits that soared on Bush’s watch, boosted by spending for the Iraq war.
But Bush tried to turn the tables on Democrats, accusing them of seeking to go on a spending spree and said it would only be a matter of time before they sought higher taxes to pay for it.
“Their majority was elected on a pledge of fiscal responsibility, but so far it’s acting like a teenager with a new credit card,” he said in a speech in New Albany, Indiana. He added he would not hesitate to use his veto pen again.
Democrats defended the labor bill, saying the extra funds were needed for programs like education and research on cancer and other diseases. They said the money was dwarfed by the Iraq war costs and that overall, they are paying for spending increases with belt-tightening elsewhere.
“The president again vetoed a bipartisan and fiscally responsible bill that addresses the priorities of the American people,” said House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
“At the same time, President Bush and his congressional allies demand hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Iraq — none of it paid for,” Pelosi added.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, said Bush was “pretending” to protect the budget deficit while “asking us to spend another $200 billion on the misguided war in Iraq.”
Democrats note that while Bush has eagerly wielded his veto pen lately, he did not veto any spending bills in the first six years of his tenure when Republicans controlled Congress.
Bush is now trying to burnish his fiscal credentials with conservatives in his party, many of whom have viewed him as a big spender and contend he could have done more to require budget discipline.
Not all Republicans have welcomed the vetoes. Many joined with Democrats last week to produce the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto of a popular bill to fund water projects.
Democrats are expected to try to override Bush’s veto of the labor and health bill this week but may have trouble garnering enough Republican votes to push the bill through over his objections.
The Pentagon bill will pay for weapons and soldiers’ salaries but does not include $196 billion more Bush wants for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Bush hoped some war funds would have been included in the Pentagon’s larger funding bill.
Instead, House Democrats are expected to vote this week on a $50 billion war down payment. They also want to attach conditions Bush opposes, including timetables for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.
Bush said Congress should not go home for the Christmas holiday without making sure troops have funding.
“I understand some of them in Congress didn’t agree with my decision, that’s fine,” he said. “But whatever their position on the war is we should be able to agree that our troops deserve the full support of those of us in Washington D.C.”
Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Rick Cowan and Eric Beech