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Conservatives Vow to Uphold Vetoes

House conservatives backed by the House GOP leadership have launched an effort to sustain President Bush’s threatened vetoes of spending bills later this year in what they call a “defining moment” for their party.

Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman issued veto threats after Democrats crafted a budget blueprint that would spend $23 billion more in fiscal 2008 than Bush requested, setting up a late-summer showdown.

Party conservatives are circulating a letter pledging to vote to sustain vetoes of appropriations bills and have collected 115 signatures at last count.

“I think it’s very important because it helps us regain credibility on fiscal responsibility, and that’s a brand we lost over the last two or three terms,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), an appropriator who has signed on to the letter.

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), one of the leaders of the effort, said it’s “absolutely a defining moment” for Republicans.

“We can’t get that credibility back if we spend along with the Democrats,” he said. “It is such a clearly black-and-white issue. You are either going to spend $23 billion or not. We have the power to stop it.”

Republicans need 146 votes to sustain a veto, and it is far from clear whether they can get the signatures, particularly on such a broadly worded letter. Most Republican appropriators and moderates have not signed the letter, and several have said they would consider voting for an override depending on the bill.

Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) said he is considering signing the letter. Lewis said the level at which the Democrats want to spend is clearly too high but said he would like to see more guidance from the White House.

It’s unclear, in particular, whether Bush will veto every bill that exceeds his request, including such politically sensitive bills as Homeland Security and military construction, Veterans Affairs and related agencies, or simply bills such as the one funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that are expected to be well above his request and filled with programs supported most avidly by Democrats.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said it’s critical to show there are 146 Members willing to stand with the president, adding that he hoped the letter would strengthen the resolve of Bush to veto bills in the first place.

“I’m trying to make it easier to do the right thing,” Hensarling said of the president. “If for some reason we can’t get to 146, that’s going to be difficult to explain.”

Campbell said he expects many Republicans will vote for the bills themselves but then to sustain the vetoes.

“They can vote for the bill to say there are things I like, and they can vote for the veto to say the overall level is too high,” Campbell said, although he said he expected to vote against the spending bills as well.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who led an effort by moderates last year to increase spending on the Labor-HHS spending bill, said he would not sign such a letter before seeing the bills themselves. “I’m going to look at each of these bills individually,” Castle said, noting he has in the past strongly supported increased spending on health and education. “I would worry about signing something like that just because of the enormity of the numbers.”

Republicans did find more than enough votes to sustain the president’s veto on the first Iraq spending bill, but Campbell acknowledged that was an easier lift. “It’s a little bit tougher because it’s not the veto of one bill, it’s potentially the veto of 13 bills,” he said. “It’s a tougher lift, but it’s an important lift.”

Others, including appropriators Reps. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the Labor-HHS subcommittee, Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), say they would consider voting to override a veto depending on the bill.

House GOP leaders, including Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.), among others, have signed on to the letter.

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