- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democrats won a key test vote yesterday as the Senate prepares to send a massive $464 billion catchall spending bill to President Bush’s desk.

The bill would wrap up budget business left unfinished last year after Congress failed to complete work on nine spending bills covering foreign aid and every domestic agency save for the Department of Homeland Security.

The measure will be the first major bill to work its way through both the House and Senate since the Democratic takeover last month. It has support from the president because it sticks within the overall budget limit set by him and congressional Republicans last year.

The Senate voted 71-26 to limit debate on the bill, clearing the way for a final vote in time to beat a midnight deadline tomorrow. Republicans agreed despite frustration with hardball tactics employed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who denied rank-and-file lawmakers any chance to amend the measure.

That is ordinarily the kind of move that incites the minority party to filibuster. But with much in the bill to please senators, including senior Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, Republicans didn’t have the stomach to hold up the bill.

The bill reflects the priorities of its authors, the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, who shifted funds from Mr. Bush’s requests for foreign aid and military base projects to popular programs such as health research, law enforcement and low-income housing.

Most of the funding shifts were small but were needed to avoid furloughs or other problems at agencies such as the FBI that are limping along at or below last year’s funding levels. State governments in particular are eager for additional highway-construction funds instead of having them frozen at 2006 levels.

All of the budgeting work was supposed to have been completed months ago, but the Republican-led Congress made no serious effort to complete the work before the midterm elections in November.

Republicans criticized the measure for cutting $3 billion from Mr. Bush’s request to implement a 2005 round of military base closings and consolidations. They said the budget cuts would slow the redeployment of 12,000 troops stationed in Germany and South Korea to domestic bases such as Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and also delay funding for communities to prepare closed bases for other uses.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, promised that the military base funding would be provided in a $100 billion-plus Iraq war funding bill expected to advance next month — though Republican critics say such a maneuver would amount to budgetary trick that would use the Iraq funding bill to circumvent funding limits.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, took to the floor yesterday to criticize Democrats for failing to fund a $30 million program he authored to test newborns for the AIDS virus. The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors opposed Mr. Coburn’s amendment because it would cut funding in other AIDS prevention programs.

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