The White House on Monday warned Congress that efforts to put off next Monday's deadline for $100 billion in automatic spending cuts likely will be met with a presidential veto.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the Gramm-Rud-man law targets, which require the automatic cuts in the absence of congressional agreement on deficit-reduction, "are an important discipline.""They were put there by Congress to enforce decision-making and we don't agree they should be extended," he said.
Asked if that was a clear veto threat for efforts to delay the spending cuts to give budget negotiators some additional breathing room, Fitzwater said: "A veto threat is a veto threat. I conclude it's a veto threat."
Fitzwater noted that the administration in the past has suggested that President Bush was likely to veto stopgap funding legislation that would delay or reduce the deficit targets.
However, Monday's strong renewal of the threat - coming just seven days before the deadline and as budget talks remained deadlocked - appeared calculated to increase pressure on the bargaining process.
"There are a number of things that still divide us. We're still hopeful we can get agreement. We've got seven days to go. We're t-minus seven . . . We're sticking with it and still talking," he said.
Fitzwater also was critical of what he called efforts by Democrats to suggest that the major stumbling block was administration insistence on a cut in the capital gains tax.
The spokesman said that Bush would join the budget negotiations, but probably not "until pretty close to the end. When it's necessary, we'll be there."
As to a new proposal by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., for a package that would offset a cut in capital gains taxes with higher taxes on the wealthy, Fitzwater said:
"We certainly share his frustration that everybody needs to get off the dime and get an agreement here."
However, Fitzwater would not comment on the specific proposal.
The Kansas Republican said GOP negotiators at the 4-month-old budget talks were resisting Democratic efforts to raise the income tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 28 percent to 33 percent.