- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Senate’s overloaded $106.5 billion emergency spending bill — already facing a veto threat — yesterday ran into more problems, as progress was stalled by a Democrat demanding that government stop helping oil companies.

Meanwhile, conservatives — led by Sen. Tom Coburn — lined up several attempts to cut extra unrelated items from the bill, originally intended for hurricane relief and the war effort.

Mr. Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, scored a small victory late yesterday, striking $15 million designated for a seafood marketing campaign in the Gulf Coast. “It’s just a start,” he said, pledging many more such amendments.

Debate on the bill is expected to continue into next week.

But even with President Bush’s threat of a veto hanging over the bill, it became clear this week that the Senate likely can’t muster the votes to significantly reduce the bill’s $106.5 billion price tag, which includes extra items such as $4 billion for agriculture assistance. Mr. Bush has said he will veto it unless the final bill is cut down to his original request of $92.2 billion, plus an extra $2.3 billion in pandemic-flu money that the Senate added.

Senators this week turned back several attempts to reduce the bill, including a Coburn proposal that would have removed a widely criticized $700 million to reroute a railroad in Mississippi.

Republicans say the cutting will likely come in the final stage of negotiations between the House and Senate.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, spent most of yesterday holding up the bill and demanding a vote on an amendment to ban the government from allowing federal fee reductions for oil companies, as long as oil is above $55 per barrel.

Oil companies have to pay royalty fees to the government when they drill on federal property. The government reduced those fees in order to stimulate production when the price of oil was cheap, but now that oil is more than $70 per barrel, the lower fees “amount to a needless subsidy of billions and billions of dollars,” said Mr. Wyden, who spent more than four hours talking about that issue yesterday.

Mr. Wyden’s filibuster came amid ongoing jockeying by both parties over how best to reduce the high price of gasoline.

The Senate adopted, 94-0, a Democratic amendment stating that the Senate would like Mr. Bush to include the cost of the Iraq war in his annual budgets.

“Some measure of sanity has to be brought to the spiraling cost of the war,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who offered the proposal.

Thirty-five Senate Republicans signed a letter this week saying they’d back a presidential veto of the bill, and some conservatives — battling to rein in congressional spending — said a veto may be the best thing to happen. Mr. Bush has never used his veto pen.

“You may have to go through a veto in order to shake up the system,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “It would not displease me to have a veto.”

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