President George W. Bush never picked a spending fight when his party ran Congress during his first six years in office. But with Democrats now in charge of the budget, he has dug in for a challenge.
In a stop in Arkansas, Bush on Monday 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 (EUR15.5 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 (EUR14 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 (EUR25 billion) over five years. Bush has called for a $5 billion (EUR3.5 billion) increase and planned to defend his position again in his remarks in Rogers, Arkansas.
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 Monday schedule 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 Monday; he has raising Republican campaign cash, too. Bush was to attend a private fundraiser in Memphis, Tennessee, to support Sen. Lamar Alexander's re-election bid in 2008.
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