Senate ready to buck Bush on funding for local police

Times Staff Writers

Rather than bow to President Bush’s budget warnings, a defiant Senate today is poised to approve a bill that would increase funding for an anti-crime program that the White House has sought to cut.

Senators are expected to add $110 million to funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services program, even after the president sought Monday to rally the public against Democratic efforts to increase spending for domestic programs.

“You’re fixing to see what they call a fiscal showdown in Washington,” Bush told an enthusiastic crowd in Rogers, Ark., as he made his latest effort to cast himself as a fighter for fiscal responsibility.


Democrats, for their part, are carefully picking their fights, daring Bush to veto spending increases for popular programs.

After sending him an expansion of a children’s health insurance program, which he vetoed, they are seeking to provide an increase in federal money to police departments.

That money can be used to hire more officers at a time when violent crime has been on the rise nationally.

Bush and Congress have been trading barbs for weeks over their budget plans. Democrats want to spend about $22 billion more in fiscal 2008 than the president has requested.

The extra $110 million for the COPS program is expected to be added to a bill funding the departments of Justice and Commerce, NASA and a number of other agencies for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It is one of several spending bills that Bush has threatened to veto.

Democrats show no sign of backing down, saying they are seeking to restore funding for programs that Bush has tried to cut or were neglected while Republicans controlled Congress and the White House. Earlier this month, the Senate added $1 billion for NASA to the bill, which already exceeded Bush’s request by more than $3 billion.

“I’m perplexed that there is a veto threat by the president on this bill because [it] takes a strong position to secure America here at the homeland,” Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) said during debate on the COPS program Monday.

The Senate spending bill would provide $660 million for COPS. The House measure provides even more -- $725 million.

The program was a favorite of President Clinton’s. Bush has proposed cutting its funding to about $32 million from the roughly $500 million provided last year.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who pushed for the funding increase, said it would pay for hiring about 1,400 officers nationwide. The money is allocated through a competitive grant program.

The increase has been welcomed by police groups. The National Sheriffs’ Assn. said in a letter to lawmakers: “It is no coincidence that violent crime rates were declining during the 1990s when the number of law enforcement officers patrolling U.S. streets was on the rise.”

In Arkansas, Bush argued that the Democratic spending proposals would lead to tax increases that could hurt economic growth.

“The worst thing we could do is run up taxes as this economy is growing,” an animated Bush told a crowd invited by the area chamber of commerce. “That’s what you’re fixing to get stuck with -- a tax raise. Unless, of course, I prevent them from raising your taxes, which I fully intend to do.”

With the failure of his biggest domestic initiatives -- efforts to overhaul Social Security and immigration laws -- and renewal of his signature education program hung up in Congress, Bush has sought to reclaim the high ground for his party in the perennial tax-and-spend debate.

The president chided Democrats for not having sent him any of the 12 appropriations bills for the fiscal year. Since Oct. 1, the federal government has been operating under a stopgap spending measure.

Last year, when Republicans controlled Congress, they similarly did not pass most of the appropriations bills on time.

Bush’s record on spending has dismayed fiscal conservatives, who watched as the Clinton-era surpluses dipped into six straight years of deficits, including a record $412.7 billion in fiscal 2004.

In the first six years of his administration, as federal spending soared, Bush never vetoed a GOP-sponsored spending bill. Now he is threatening to veto many of the bills crafted by Democrats.

In his Arkansas speech, Bush also addressed his dispute with Democrats over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. He vetoed a bill that would have boosted spending for the program by $35 billion over the next five years, an increase Democrats say is enough to extend coverage from 6 million children to 10 million. Bush wants an increase of no more than $5 billion.

“It sounds like to me somebody wants to extend the reach of the federal government into medicine,” he said. It “sounds like there’s a nationalization of medicine going on here.”

The House is set to try to override his veto on Thursday, but it appears Democrats have failed to win enough GOP support to reach the needed two-thirds margin.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said the president wants to negotiate with congressional leaders after the vote on the veto.

“We definitely do want to sit down with members of the House and Senate and try to find ways to reauthorize the program in a way that puts the poorest children first in line -- makes sure they’re covered,” he said.

The White House makes it a point to schedule Bush’s public appearances before friendly audiences, and in Arkansas -- which he easily carried in 2000 and 2004 -- he was visiting the county that gave him his strongest support in the state three years ago.

He also was making his case to one of the most robust local economies in the country. Anchored by Wal-Mart in Bentonville, J.B. Hunt Transport in Lowell and Tyson Foods in Springdale, northwest Arkansas creates jobs faster than the state or the country.

Hoeffel reported from Arkansas and Simon from Washington.