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White House budget director Lew takes a hard line in looming showdown over spending bills
WASHINGTON (AP) ' The White House signaled Friday that President Barack Obama will take a hard line in ongoing negotiations over a $900 billion-plus catchall spending bill that's needed to keep the government running through next September.
Budget director Jacob Lew told reporters that Republicans are insisting on using the must-pass measure to carry excessive policy provisions on topics like abortion and the environment. He also said that some Republicans are trying to wriggle out of last summer's budget deal, which set spending limits that are too high for most tea party lawmakers.
At issue are nine unfinished spending bills ' covering the Pentagon, homeland security, environmental programs, education, foreign aid and a host of other issues ' setting the day-to-day operating budgets of federal agencies for the 2012 budget year that began Oct. 1.
The overall spending levels were decided in August after protracted battles over legislation raising the government's debt limit, and they essentially are frozen at levels agreed to in talks earlier this year.
Stopgap spending expires in two weeks and either the omnibus bill or another stopgap measure must be passed to avoid a partial shutdown of the government.
The biggest hangup, Lew said, is more than a hundred policy "riders," including language that could permit mining near the Grand Canyon, weaken clean water regulations and delay new energy efficiency rules on appliances. The administration has signaled that it can grudgingly accept some riders, such as a ban of taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia, but it is staking out a hard line on most others.
"I haven't seen the clear movement away from the riders that we're going to need to see," Lew said. "These issues kind of keep coming back up."
Lew said that he's seen conflicting signals from Republicans on revisiting spending caps. At issue is more than $11 billion worth of leeway on disaster funding that's permitted under the August budget accord. The disaster funding is permitted on top of the $1.043 trillion overall spending cap, but using more than $7 billion would cause 2012 spending to actually exceed 2011 levels and therefore further alienate GOP conservatives.