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Spending Battle Heats Up On Hill

With another veto Tuesday, President Bush and congressional Democrats headed deeper into their showdown over the trillions of dollars in annual spending it takes to keep the federal government running.

And both the left and the right are taking steps to frame the debate to their political advantage in the run-up to a likely veto over-ride attempt later this week on the bill that funds the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. Americans United for Change, a liberal, labor-backed group supportive of the Democratic leadership's agenda, is launching a round of radio advertisements against 10 House Republicans. The ads hit the lawmakers on their unwillingness to support that funding measure as well as the proposed $35 billion expansion of the state Children's Health Insurance Program.

These are basically cookie-cutter ads airing the same script in each of the congressional districts, including GOP incumbents facing potentially difficult re-elections next fall: Steve Chabot (Ohio) and Michelle Bachman (Minn.).

"Chabot and Bush would rather spend half a trillion in Iraq than a fraction of that here to help our kids, veterans and seniors get the health care they need," the announcer says over the sounds of a hospital emergency room and crying babies.

Bush, at an event in Indiana, signaled how tough he expects to be in this end-of-year showdown over spending, accusing the Democratic Congress of "acting like a teenager with a new credit card."

Hitting a similar theme, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a release today skewering Rep. Tim Mahoney (Fla.), one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats, for "empty rhetoric on spending," noting that Mahoney supported the Democratic budget blueprint earlier this year. "The budget that Mahoney voted for far exceeds the president's budget request by $21 billion dollars. Mahoney has also voted for every one of the Democrat-sponsored spending bills," the NRCC release said.

These two competing themes will play out in the weeks ahead, as Democrats and their liberal allies paint a picture of Bush and Republicans as heartless lawmakers willing to spend money on war but not health insurance for kids. And Republicans will counter with the tax-and-spend Democrats, acting like drunken sailors with federal tax dollars.

Bush did sign a $460 billion spending bill for the Defense Department, the first of a dozen must-pass appropriations measures to keep the government functioning.

Democratic chances of winning veto overrides are fairly slim. The House fell three votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to beat a veto in passing the Labor-HHS appropriations bill last week, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is more than a half-dozen votes shy of the 67 he needs to beat a veto.

So part of the Americans United campaign is to put political pressure on Republicans. The group ran more than $1 million worth of ads in the weeks leading up to the passage and failed veto override of the SCHIP expansion, yielding no additional GOP votes.

Interestingly, among the targets in this round of advertising is Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chairman of the NRCC. Cole won with 65 percent of the vote in 2006 and is not at all viewed as vulnerable next year.

Here are the other Republicans facing radio ads in their district this week: Robert Aderholt (Ala.), Rodney Alexander (La.), John Boozman (Ark.), Virgil Goode (Va.), Chip Pickering (Miss.), Bill Sali (Idaho), Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.).

By Paul Kane  |  November 13, 2007; 4:14 PM ET
 
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