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White House blasts Democrats for delaying funding for veterans care

  • Story Highlights
  • White House accuses Democrats of holding hostage funding for veterans care
  • Funding was attached to large health-labor-education bill
  • White House says it wants a clean bill that only funds veterans programs
  • Democrats call on White House to engage in a dialogue on spending levels
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House is blasting Congressional Democrats for not sending a bill that would fund veterans' care programs to the president's desk by Veterans Day.

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The White House's Dana Perino accused Democrats of holding veterans care funding hostage.

"There's absolutely no reason that the veterans' bill could not have been signed by the president today, except for the political games that the Democrats decided to play with it," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Sunday in Crawford, Texas.

Congressional Democrats had attached legislation funding veterans programs to a $150.7 billion bill that also funded a number of domestic priorities, including health, labor and education. Democrats also added $3.7 billion to what the president budgeted for veterans programs.

The labor-health-education bill would increase funding by more than $10 billion over last year's funding for those programs. The president has threatened to veto the bill because of the added spending.

The House passed a health-labor-education bill 269-142 last week with the veterans funding attached, but the Senate later voted to strip out the veterans funding and send the health-labor-education bill to the president.

Perino accused the Democrats of "trying to hold hostage our veterans to extra domestic spending or increases in taxes."

"The president wants clean legislation, a clean bill to fund the veterans," Perino said.

On Saturday, the Democratic congressional leadership sent a letter to President Bush saying they welcomed a dialogue on spending, sayings disagreements over funding levels "have never been so great that we cannot reach agreement on a spending plan that meets the needs of the American people."

"Key to this dialogue, however, is some willingness on your part to actually find common ground," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said in the letter.

The leadership said last year's Congress, which was still under Republican control, had never passed a separate bill funding veterans programs.

Congress also sent to the president legislation that would fund veterans care at the levels requested by the president through December 14, the leadership said.

The current funding level "is still below the $3.9 billion extra that we passed," said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman Pelosi. "We are committed to getting the extra funding that the Congress already voted on the president's desk for his signature."

The leadership blamed Republican members of Congress for stalling the funding for the veterans programs by blocking its inclusion in the larger spending bill.

Perino, though, said the Democrats could still send a separate bill to the president funding the veterans program that passed both chambers of Congress.

"The Democrats decided not to send the president this bill," Perino said. "That has to be laid at their feet." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

All About Government SpendingU.S. Department of Veterans AffairsFederal Budget

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