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by J.R. Pegg

Repubs Distance Themselves From Bush As Election Year Starts

(ENS) WASHINGTON -- The Senate has approved a $109 billion emergency spending bill to pay for the war in Iraq and for reconstruction of the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast, but the future of the legislation is very much up in the air.

The measure is $14 billion more than the amount requested by President Bush and the White House today reiterated its pledge to veto the bill.

"The President has made it very clear he would veto legislation that goes above and beyond what he called for," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. "He said that this is a test on spending restraint and he calls on Congress to fund our troops and fund the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast and then hold the line on spending elsewhere."

McClellan added that Republican leaders in the House and Senate have expressed support for sustaining a veto -- a point reiterated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

"I applaud the President's determination to stick to true emergency spending and I will support such a veto if necessary to keep that federal spending under control," said Frist, a Tennessee Republican. "Families have got live within their means and so should we here in Washington."

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 77 to 21 -- all those in opposition were Republicans.

Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, said that if Bush wants to veto a bill that includes military funding, hurricane aid, port and border security, farm disaster relief and the plan to combat avian flu, he should "have at it."

"That is his right," said Byrd, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "But the Congress should not be bullied by the President."

The House and Senate must now commence a conference committee to reconcile their rival spending plans and construct a final bill. Senate leaders said they hope the committee can complete its work by month's end, but there are considerable differences lawmakers must iron out.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, called the Senate's bill "dead on arrival."

"The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers," Hastert said.

Most of the potential hurdles center on hurricane relief and on programs not included in the White House request -- the $68 billion earmarked by the Senate for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is in line with the president's plan and the legislation approved by the House.

The Senate included some $29 billion under the broad banner of hurricane relief, a figure that is $7 billion more than the White House requested and nearly $8 billion more than the House included in its bill.

"The disasters in the Gulf Coast were devastating and they need the money now," said Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Senate agreed on Tuesday to add $2.2 billion for levee construction in coastal Louisiana, in addition to the $1.5 billion in levee projects and flood control originally in the legislation.

The additional funding provides for the "essential levee and hurricane protection needs" of the Gulf Coast, said Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican.

The Senate bill also added $1.1 billion to rebuild and restore Gulf Coast fisheries, as well as $4 billion for farm disaster assistance, more than $2 billion for federal efforts to prepare for a possible avian flu pandemic and $700 million to relocate a private freight line in Mississippi.

Two Republican Senators -- Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona -- spearheaded an effort to strip funding from the bill, but failed at virtually every turn.

McCain noted that the bill includes $15 million for a federal lamb breeding program, $120 million for sugar growers in Florida, as well as some $75 million in state grants for producers as specialty crop producers -- defined as "anything but wheat, feed grains, oil seeds, cotton, rice or peanuts."

"The agricultural assistance program is being used to fill a voter wish list rather than the urgent needs of victims of the 2005 hurricane season," McCain said. "I hope the specialty crop is a money tree because that is what is going to be needed to pay for this bill."

McCain also failed in a bid to block the addition of $1.9 million for water projects in Hawaii and with an amendment written to strike a $6 million earmark for sugar cane production in Hawaii.

"The Hawaiian Islands weren't anywhere near the path of the 2005 hurricanes," McCain said. ""I'd thought we'd done enough pork barreling for one bill but apparently there is never enough around here."

Senator Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, said the measures warranted inclusion in the emergency spending bill because they are the result of massive flooding in his state.

"It rained for 40 days and 40 nights," Inouye said.

Both Democrats and Republicans criticized the president for failing to include funding for the war in the regular budget and for requesting the fifth supplemental appropriations bill since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

"Many of the items in this bill should be considered in the regular appropriations process and through the regular order," Coburn said. "The War on Terror is no longer a surprise. We're entering our fifth year of this war."

The money in supplemental bills also does not count against the deficit, Coburn told colleagues, but it does get included in "the payments that your children and grandchildren will have to pay back 30 years from now."

"And that $10 billion is gonna come to about $50 billion when they pay it," he said. "We are really reaching forward and stealing opportunity from our kids."

White House Press Secretary McClellan told reporters today that the President believes "this is vital legislation to continue to provide our troops in the war on terrorism with vital resources they need to continue to win the war on terrorism and to provide critical resources to the people of the Gulf Coast as they continue to rebuild their communities."

McClellan said the President views this bill as "a test on spending restraint." He said Bush is "calling on Congress to fund our troops and fund the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast, and then hold the line on spending elsewhere. That means don't put unnecessary spending into this emergency legislation."

© 2006 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor   May 4, 2006   (

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