PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ President Bush said Thursday the Democratic-run Congress shouldn't leave Washington for its August recess without at least finishing a spending bill covering the Defense Department.
``In a time of war, one spending bill ought to take precedence over all the rest,'' Bush said in a speech before a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
``Members of Congress ought to finish the spending bill for the Department of Defense before they go on recess so I can sign it into law,'' the president said. ``We got troops in harm's way. They need to exercise their responsibility.''
Congress is due to begin a monthlong recess in about two weeks, and Bush said lawmakers must finish work on that defense bill even if they don't get to 11 other government spending bills by then.
But with the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, not a single one of the 12 annual spending bills for agency budgets and programs has yet been passed by the full Congress. Democrats are adding about $23 billion to Bush's proposed budget _ or about 2 percent of the so-called discretionary budget covering nonsecurity-related domestic programs. The White House has reacted with several veto threats, and the two branches remain entrenched in a protracted wrestling match over spending.
Lawmakers are increasingly concerned that many if not most of the 12 spending measures won't get enacted into law until late in the year as part of a foot-tall omnibus, catchall bill.
Bush portrayed this situation as the fault of Congress, run by Democrats since January.
``They're now in charge and it's important that they exercise their responsibility,'' he said. ``They've been dragging their feet on these bills. They are now getting ready to leave for their August recess without having passed a single spending bill.''
The president said the bills must come to him one at a time, not as a ``massive spending bill that no one can read and in which anyone can hide wasteful spending.''
He also said that all the bills should be done by Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends and money runs out for government operations.
``There's time to do it,'' Bush said. ``I'll hang around if they want me to, to get the bill passed.''
Bush also criticized the Democrats' spending priorities, saying that since their budget counts on the expiration of current tax cuts, it represents ``the largest tax increase in American history.'' When Congress, then run by Republicans, passed tax cuts earlier in Bush's presidency, it attached expiration dates to most of them. Those expiration dates come into play over the next several years.
``The bunch now running the Congress want to return to the tax-and-spend policies of the past that did not work then and will not work in the future,'' the president said. ``And that's why I plan on using my veto to keep your taxes low.''
This line earned Bush a standing ovation from his friendly audience. The ALEC seeks to advance principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.
The 12 annual spending bills dole out approximately one-third of the federal budget. Lawmakers began considering this year's batch just in mid-June.
Democratic leaders say they are behind in the appropriating process because an emergency spending measure funding the war in Iraq came first. They also had to pass an omnibus measure cleaning up last year's appropriations mess. Also, the Republicans who then controlled Congress failed to pass into law a single spending bill for domestic agencies save the Homeland Security Department _ a situation that brought little complaint from Bush.