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In Spending Votes, Republicans Show Clout

Democrats' attempts to increase funding for domestic security and education are rebuffed. About $9.8 billion is trimmed from budget.

January 17, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Holding firm for President Bush, Senate Republicans on Thursday killed Democratic attempts to add billions of dollars for domestic security and education to a $390-billion bill that would fund the government through September.

On a 51-45 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to spend $5 billion more for security at ports, nuclear plants and other facilities. Hours later, the Senate defeated, 51-46, a proposal by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to spend $6 billion more on education.

Both votes showed Bush's clout in the new GOP-led Congress: No Republican senator broke ranks on the politically difficult questions. On the Democratic side, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia sided with the majority.

With budget deficits growing to a projected $200 billion to $300 billion in the coming year, the White House has been pressing lawmakers to spend less money than many in both parties had sought last year.

Bush early next month will propose a new spending plan for fiscal year 2004, the 12-month period starting Oct. 1.

But this week, Democrats have their last shot at influencing plans for the current year, fiscal 2003. With their amendments, they are daring Republicans to vote against proposals they believe are politically popular. Their potential amendments would add money for port security, farm aid and enforcement of new laws cracking down on corporate fraud. The Senate, by voice vote, also approved Thursday a measure to boost Amtrak funding by more than $370 million.

The Republican bill was drafted by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who late Wednesday became chairman of the Appropriations Committee when the Senate broke a partisan impasse and agreed on an organizing resolution.

The legislation trims $9.8 billion from spending plans that leading senators from both parties agreed on last year when the chamber was under Democratic control. It includes 11 of the 13 appropriations bills that Congress normally considers.

Last year, those 11 bills died in a partisan stalemate. Only two spending bills, for defense and military construction, were signed into law. Other parts of the government have been running on stopgap spending bills that freeze spending at fiscal 2002 levels; the latest such resolution expires Jan. 31.

While hewing to Bush's blueprint in many respects, the new GOP bill exceeds by $5 billion the administration's originally planned level of $385 billion. The additional money includes $3.9 billion in defense spending sought by the administration and more than $800 million for an emergency firefighting fund, congressional aides said.

In the debate on the Byrd amendment, Democrats challenged Republicans to spend as much money to protect the United States at home as they are willing to spend to attack American foes abroad.

"We're in a strange situation," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "When we fight a war on terrorism overseas, every penny is available, as it should be. But when it comes to fighting it here in the homeland, we have no money. It makes no sense."

Republicans countered that the government is, indeed, ramping up security spending. Stevens noted the additional $3.7 billion in the bill to combat bioterrorism, an increase of one-third above the current level, and an extra $5.3 billion for transportation security, an increase of more than 50%.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the government could not handle any more money for security. "Money will be spent recklessly, inappropriately and probably wasted," Gregg said.

All but four Democrats joined independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont in voting for the Byrd amendment. While Miller voted with the Republicans, two presidential hopefuls, Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, were absent, along with Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.) also missed the vote.

By an identical margin, the Senate also rejected a pared-back Byrd amendment for homeland security.

On education, Kennedy said the government is falling short of its obligation to fund reforms enacted a year ago under the slogan "No Child Left Behind."

"We have to ask ourselves today, who is failing in meeting its responsibilities?" Kennedy said, "It is right here in the Congress of the United States that we are failing the children of America."

While the Republican bill would raise federal education spending by about $2.7 billion, aides said, Kennedy sought to boost funding further by $4.5 billion for disadvantaged schoolchildren and $1.5 billion for grants for low-income college students.

But Republicans said Bush has presided over unprecedented levels of education spending and would continue to seek more. A Republican counterproposal to boost education funds for states by cutting elsewhere in the budget passed on a largely party-line vote of 52 to 45.

Many senators were uneasy about the education duel. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said: "We're in an auction and bidding war for political cover -- because everyone wants to look good by adding money for education."

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