Spending bill gets stuck on funding for farmers
Fram; The Associated Press
The News Tribune
WASHINGTON, D.C.- House-Senate bargainers agreed to add NASA and
defense money to a government-wide spending bill whose cost has surpassed
$396 billion, but failed to complete a compromise Monday when they
deadlocked over aid to farmers.
Barely a week after space shuttle Columbia disintegrated, lawmakers
agreed to provide NASA with $50 million to investigate the accident
that killed all seven astronauts, a congressional aide said Monday.
The space agency's total budget would be $15.4 billion, $414 million
more than Bush requested and $513 million more than last year's total,
with the shuttle program itself getting more than $3.2 billion.
At the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney, negotiators agreed over
the weekend to add $6.1 billion to help the Pentagon defray some personnel
and operations costs in Afghanistan and other nations where it is
Along with $3.9 billion the Senate added last month for intelligence
operations, the new money essentially would fulfill the request President
Bush made a year ago for a $10 billion military contingency fund that
he would control. Congress ignored the initial proposal because it
would have had little say over the money.
Negotiators met for two-and-a-half hours Monday night in a jam-packed
room steps from the Senate chamber in hopes of resolving final disputes.
But they broke up with the House refusing to approve $3.1 billion
the Senate wants to help farmers. House lawmakers want more of the
provision's funds directed at victims of the ongoing drought, and
are refusing to pay for the money with cuts in most other programs
in the overall bill.
Aides said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has told the
White House that the agriculture package must be included for the
overall bill to pass the Senate, a sentiment echoed by Senate Appropriations
Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
"There will be no bill without the drought provision," he
said as Monday's session ended.
Democrats complained that there was not enough money for local law
enforcement agencies and other domestic security programs, land conservation,
education and Head Start preschools for poor children.
"These cuts are unwise given the increased threat level under
which we are all now living," said Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia,
top Democrat on the Appropriations panel.
Underlining the spending pressures facing both parties, the White
House has now signed off on more than $10 billion over the $385 billion
that Bush originally demanded as the bill's top price tag.
The bill's details were described by congressional aides and lobbyists
on condition of anonymity.
The roughly 1,100-page compromise bill would finance every domestic
agency and pay for foreign aid for the federal budget year that began
Oct. 1. Lawmakers already enacted two bills to provide $365.6 billion
for defense for this year, and the administration is expected to request
billions more in a few weeks.
The rest of the $2.2 trillion federal budget covers Social Security
and benefits paid automatically.
Removing one obstacle, bargainers agreed to an estimated $49 billion
over the next decade to increase Medicare reimbursements to doctors
and some hospitals.
Democrats failed to kill language backed by the timber industry to
increase logging in Alaska's 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest
and make it harder for environmentalists to block such activities.
Another provision would greatly expand the Forest Service's ability
to enter agreements with lumber companies to maintain - and remove
trees - from much of the 191 million acres it manages nationwide.
In another fight, bargainers dropped a provision sought by the airlines
to make voluntary and unpaid the training its pilots and flight attendants
are now required to take - with pay -- in handling episodes of terrorism
and other violent incidents aboard flights. The 50,000-member Association
of Flight Attendants opposed the measure.
The budget for the Interior Department and other land and cultural
programs would drop more than $200 million below the $19.3 billion
they received in 2002.