With veto, Bush turns his back on vital services

WASHINGTON — On Nov. 14, President Bush vetoed a funding bill that would have increased spending for health, education and job training by $150.7 billion. Bush complained that it was “wasteful spending,” but he then signed a $471 billion Pentagon budget, a 9.5 percent increase, the largest military budget in U.S. history. That does not include another $196 billion in a separate Pentagon supplemental request to pay for the war in Iraq.

The House on Nov. 15 came only two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the Bush veto. The vote was 277-141.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said the omnibus spending bill for the labor and health and human services departments “was a carefully crafted bipartisan effort to fund essential services that promote education, economic development, job training and scientific research.”

While the president is willing to “spend billions on Iraq,” McEntee added, “he turns his back on the vital services that strengthen America’s middle class. This Congress needs to say no to the president’s wrong priorities.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that, after a two-week Thanksgiving recess, Congress will put together a package that contains all the domestic spending measures Bush has vetoed while reducing by half the $22 billion in increased funding Congress had asked for.

Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, argued strongly against that tradeoff. “We don’t care how it is packaged,” she told the World. “What is key is the level of support for these vital programs. We have gone through seven years of cuts. We don’t want it to be eight years of cuts. We need to rebuild and invest in these programs, not cut them.”

She urged voters to seek meetings with their representatives during this Thanksgiving break to demand that they push for full funding of essential domestic programs.

She cited as an example the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Even as home heating costs have skyrocketed and family income for the poor is eroding, Bush’s veto will strip 1.4 million households of LIHEAP benefits.

In addition, 1.2 million people will lose access to community health centers, 173,000 people will lose job training and 34,000 children will be denied Head Start. Bush’s earlier repeated vetoes of an expanded SCHIP children’s health program denied health care for 4 million children not currently protected by SCHIP and placed in jeopardy the 6.6 million who are already enrolled. That program is still in limbo.

Meanwhile, the House rejected Bush’s $196 billion Iraq war request and instead approved a $50 billion “emergency supplemental” by a vote of 218-203. Sue Udry, legislative coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, said it contains many conditions that mean Bush will veto it. Already, Senate Republican war hawks blocked consideration of the measure, with the Democrats falling seven votes short of the 60 needed to terminate debate.

Called the “Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Act,” the measure passed by the House states that the primary purpose of the funding is “redeployment and not to extend or prolong the war.” It contains a strong prohibition of torture and prohibits “permanent military bases or the exercise of control of Iraq oil resources.” It would require Bush to begin withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq within 30 days and implement withdrawal of all but a “limited presence” by Dec. 15, 2008.

Reps. Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters, all California Democrats who are leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said they supported the legislation as “concrete steps in the right direction.”

Udry told the World the vote reflects “the extraordinary efforts of peace groups across the country that have moved Congress to the point of confrontation.”

She added, “Bush is lambasting Congress for not funding the war while he has vetoed a bill for children’s health [and] vetoed a bill that would provide $150.7 billion in domestic spending for education, job training and health.”

She urged the antiwar movement to “build new coalitions with domestic interest groups around a joint agenda for peace and justice.”

Significantly, Bush suffered the first veto override of his seven-year presidency Nov. 8 when the Senate voted 79-14 to enact a $23 billion water resources bill despite his protest that it was too expensive. It was the first time in nearly a decade that Congress has passed a bill over a presidential veto. Earlier the House voted 361-54 to override.

The bill funds hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as dams, sewage plants and beach restoration, that are important to local communities. It also includes money for the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast and for Florida Everglades restoration.

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