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OMB’s Lew Warns That President Is Willing to Veto Spending Bills

In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, the White House threatened to veto spending legislation that, in its opinion, hurts national security or domestic priorities or fails to cut waste without sacrificing economic growth.

“If the president is presented with a bill that undermines critical domestic priorities, or national security through funding levels or language restrictions, contains earmarks, or fails to make tough choices to cut where needed while maintaining what we need to spur long-term job creation and win the future, the president will veto the bill,” Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.

The letter came as the Senate is working on a spending package that is made up of the Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations measures. Senate leaders hope to finish work on the package this week.

The new fiscal year began this month without any enacted appropriations measures, and the federal government is operating on stopgap funding legislation that expires Nov. 18. The House has passed six of the 12 annual spending bills, while the Senate has passed one. Congress will need to work out compromise legislation that can pass in both chambers to set spending for fiscal 2012, but it may have to pass another short-term funding extension first to buy more time to reach an agreement.

In his five-page letter, Lew insisted that the appropriations bills should adhere to the discretionary spending levels agreed to in the August deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Some Republicans believe that with the historically high deficit, spending should be lower than the amount agreed to in the bipartisan deal. House Republicans passed a budget resolution that would have provided less discretionary spending than under the debt ceiling deal, and some House GOP Members have called on their leaders to stick to the lower GOP budget.

The letter also called for adequate funding for the agencies involved in implementing the health care overhaul law and for agencies charged with ramping up initiatives under the financial services overhaul law. Lew also warned against the inclusion of ideological policy riders in the appropriations bills.

“Swift passage of appropriations legislation should not be jeopardized by ideological provisions that have no place in funding legislation,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the administration urges the Congress to pass final appropriations without ideological or political provisions.”

One example is the Environmental Protection Agency, which is funded in the Interior and environment appropriations bill. Republicans have argued that EPA regulations have hamstrung businesses and hurt employment, and they have made no secret that they are looking to limit the agency’s budget.

The White House called for the EPA to receive at least as much as it did last fiscal year “so it can carry out its core mission of protecting human health and the environment, providing us with clean air and water, enforcing the law (including increased inspections at oil facilities), and undertaking research, among other critical functions.”

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