Congress prepares two options simultaneously: a deal for the president and a veto override.
With its approval ratings dropping into single digits, Congress heads into a wall of presidential veto threats this week, and neither side appears near the blinking point.
The standoff covers nearly all the spending bills for fiscal year 2008, as well as $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that Democrats plan to unveil this week.
President Bush has signed just five vetoes during his presidency. Last week, Congress easily overturned one of them: a $23.2 billion bill to authorize new water projects, including help for the Gulf Coast, still recovering from hurricane Katrina.
But Democrats aren't expecting that level of Republican support in the spending battles to come, which are already breaking down along partisan lines.
"The water bill is the exception. The other vetoes will be sustained," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Even in a lame-duck presidency, the veto power is one of the most influential any president has – that and war-making. This president is using both to the hilt to maintain his authority to the last day."
Seven weeks into the new fiscal year, Democrats who control Congress are developing two options to get through the spending season: packaging a deal that Mr. Bush cannot refuse – or leveraging the votes needed to override his veto.
Last week, Congress passed the first two spending bills of the fiscal year, the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations and the Labor-Health, and Human Services (HHS) and Education bill. Bush has said he will sign the Defense bill, but has threatened to veto the Labor-HHS-Education bill because it spends $150.7 billion, which is $9.8 billion more than his budget calls for.
In a surprise procedural move, Senate Republicans blocked a bid by Democratic majority leader Harry Reid to combine the Labor-HHS-Education bill with the FY 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, which Bush said he wanted to sign by Veterans' Day.