President Bush on Saturday pressed Congress for expanded veto power to rein in spending, which has exploded during his tenure to $2.7 trillion to the anger of his fiscal conservative supporters.

Government spending was about $1.9 trillion when Bush took office in 2001 but outlays on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a new government prescription drug plan, and lawmakers’ pet projects have boosted the total.

Bush, who has not vetoed a single spending bill passed by Congress, has pledged to reduce the budget gap significantly by 2009.

“A line-item veto would allow the president to remove wasteful spending from a bill while preserving the rest of the legislation,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.

He argued that all but seven of the 50 state governors have the authority to eliminate individual spending provisions from legislation and similar presidential authority would encourage lawmakers to avoid extra earmarks for their pet projects.

“A line-item veto would reduce the incentive for Congress to spend wastefully because when lawmakers know their pet projects will be held up to public scrutiny, they will be less likely to suggest them in the first place,” Bush said.

Democrats have seen the large budget deficits, at least $300 billion a year since 2003, as an issue that could resonate with voters and help them regain control of Congress in the November elections.

However, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives earlier this week approved a measure, largely along party lines, that would empower the president to ask lawmakers to delete specific spending or tax measures in larger bills.

Bush praised the vote and called on the Senate to do the same with a similar bill pending there. However, it was unclear whether it would pass.

“I call on the Senate to show a bipartisan commitment to fiscal discipline by passing the line-item veto so we can work together to cut wasteful spending, reduce the deficit, and save money for American taxpayers,” Bush said.

The proposed measure is weaker than one signed into law in 1996, which allowed the president to strike specific provisions with a line-item veto. However, after then-President Bill Clinton used it 82 times, it was struck down as unconstitutional in 1998.

© Reuters 2006