ROGERS, Ark. &
President Bush never picked a spending fight when his party ran Congress, but with Democrats now in charge of the budget, he's dug in for a challenge.
In a stop in Arkansas, Bush today planned to again chide congressional leaders for failing to send him any of the 12 spending bills that keep the government running. The budget year began Oct. 1, and federal agencies are operating on a stopgap bill for now.
For a president short on domestic victories, the White House sees fiscal discipline as a winning argument for Bush: a chance to label the opposition in tax-and-spend terms.
Among fiscal conservatives, Bush's timing seems a bit late.
Bush never vetoed an appropriations bill when Republicans controlled Congress. He is prepared to use his veto now to reject Democratic spending bills, and with confidence; conservative House Republicans appear to have the votes to sustain his promised vetoes.
Overall, Democrats are pressing to spend about $22 billion more on domestic programs than Bush wants. Education, health research and low-income housing grants are among the issues on which Bush and Democratic leaders disagree.
Given the budget's scope, a difference in the range of $20 billion is "trivial in economic terms," said Sidney Weintraub, an expert on trade and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"But they think it might have a payoff in political terms," Weintraub said of Bush and fellow Republicans. "I think the Democrats will play this as 'We're more responsible on budget issues than Republicans are,' and this is their way of saying it isn't so."
Bush has already vetoed legislation that would have raised spending on a popular children's health insurance program $35 billion over five years. Bush has called for a $5 billion increase and planned to defend his position again in his remarks in Rogers, Ark.
Bush has offered to accept a bigger spending increase on the program to get a deal done with Democrats. But he and his aides won't say how high he's willing to go.
"We're not going to negotiate through the media on this," deputy press secretary Tony Fratto told reporters on Air Force One today. "The goal has to be to get the policy right &
what are the principles behind the policy &
and then see what the numbers are."
The House will vote to override his veto Thursday, but it is expected to fall short.
Bush spent a typically quiet weekend at his Texas ranch, unseen by the public.
His schedule today began in northwest Arkansas with a tour of Stribling Packaging and Display, a manufacturing company, followed by lunch with local business leaders and public comments on the budget.
Taxpayer money is not Bush's only focus today; he's raising Republican campaign cash, too. Bush was to attend a private fundraiser in Memphis, Tenn., to support Sen. Lamar Alexander's re-election bid.
Alexander has been an outspoken Republican critic of Bush's war strategy, but has stood with him in rejecting Democratic legislation that would mandate troop withdrawals. Other GOP candidates have kept their distance from Bush, yet Alexander sees advantages.
"It's still the presidency of the United States, which is respected and admired and attractive to people," said Tom Ingram, Alexander's chief of staff and a campaign adviser. "The president still has a lot of appeal in Tennessee."
Bush to veto spending bill
ROGERS, Ark. &