Senate defies Bush, passes spending bill

$109 billion measure called `dead on arrival in House'

May 05, 2006|By MAURA REYNOLDS | MAURA REYNOLDS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Defying the most serious veto threat since George W. Bush became president, the Senate passed an emergency spending bill yesterday that includes $14 billion more than the White House wanted.

Much of the $109 billion total is designated for military operations in Iraq and hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast - $66 billion for the war and $29 billion for post-Katrina aid and repairs. The rest of the money, added incrementally as the Senate debated the bill over the past two weeks, is for programs that supporters say are crucial and critics deride as "pork."

The Senate action set up a confrontation with the House of Representatives, which in March passed a bill that came in below the $94.5 billion limit set by Bush. Yesterday, Speaker Dennis Hastert declared the Senate bill "dead on arrival in the House."

The Senate bill was approved 77-21. The opposition came entirely from Republicans who risked being labeled as voting against the troops to take a stand against what they see as excessive spending.

"This emergency spending should have been focused on supporting our brave troops and the urgent needs of those affected by Hurricane Katrina," said Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican. "Instead, every Democrat and many Republicans proved they care more about pet projects than the future of our children and grandchildren."

But supporters said the projects in the bill - including $37 million to shore up levees along the Sacramento River - were pressing enough to warrant inclusion.

"If we find provisions that shouldn't be in the bill, we'll consider taking them out," said Sen. Thad Cochran, the Mississippi Republican who heads the Appropriations Committee.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, vowed to trim the Senate version when members of the two chambers negotiate a joint bill.

"The House will not take up an emergency supplemental spending bill for Katrina and the war in Iraq that spends one dollar more than what the president asked for. Period," Boehner said.

The White House said Bush's veto threat stands, and 35 senators sent a letter to the White House vowing to support the president.

The additional funds bring the total cost of military operations to $439 billion, including $320 billion for the war in Iraq, $89 billion for Afghanistan, and $26 billion for enhanced U.S. security, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported.

While the supplemental spending bill was drawn up primarily to fund ongoing military operations, senators spent almost no time debating the war. Instead, the legislation became a vehicle for an intense, if largely symbolic, fight between Republicans exercising their constitutional power of the purse and Republicans trying to curb pork-barrel spending.

Senate Republican leaders asked the president to issue the veto threat when debate began, saying it was needed to rein in members who might see the must-pass bill to supply soldiers in the field as a convenient vehicle for pet projects. But in private, some senators and staff said the Bush veto threat emboldened senators to add in more spending, since they could rely on the threat of a veto to provide cover for removing those provisions before sending the bill to the president.

Opponents removed a few provisions, including $15 million for seafood promotion strategies and $1 million for a study of Hawaiian dams and reservoirs. But most of their efforts to trim the bill failed.

Among the programs still in the Senate version are $4 billion in farm aid, $2.3 billion to prepare for a bird flu pandemic, $1.9 billion for border security, $1.1 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast seafood industry, $700 million to relocate a rail line along the Gulf Coast, $648 million for port security and $500 million to a Northrop Grumman shipyard in Mississippi to compensate for hurricane losses not covered by insurance.

The bill also contains $37 million to shore up levees in and around Sacramento, Calif.

Critics said the effort by Republicans and Democrats to add spending to the bill suggests that their public pledges to rein in spending were not sincere.

But Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said it was unfair to decry every senator-sponsored program as excess. She said she asked for funding four or five years ago to shore up levees in New Orleans, only to have the request denied as "pork."

"If I had been given the `pork' I asked for, the levees never would have broken and we wouldn't be spending $10 billion fixing them," Landrieu said.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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