Congressional Republicans reached a compromise on a $397.4 billion spending bill yesterday that will complete the 2003 budget process more than four months late.
The last major disputes this week were over $3.1 billion in aid for farmers and efforts to restrict logging rights in Alaska. Republicans yesterday resolved both pulling out a few, but not all, of the environmental restrictions desired by environmentalists and acceding to the farm-spending level.
Republican leaders said they hope to move the bill through Congress as early as today, allowing members to recess next week, which includes Presidents Day.
“I fought hard in the conference committee to improve this legislation and get more help to Kansas farmers,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican. “Although this is not a perfect bill, this legislation will bring real assistance to those needing help because of drought conditions.”
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, complained earlier this week about the flap environmentalists were making over logging rights in his home state.
Mr. Stevens explained that an executive order signed in the waning days of Bill Clinton’s presidency banned the building of logging roads on a 1.7-million-acre expanse of the Tongass National Forest’s 17 million acres. The order reversed a congressionally approved exemption for Tongass that the bill would restore.
Democrats have threatened to block the bill perhaps even by filibuster to thwart what Sen. Barbara Boxer of California calls “a dangerous back-door attempt” to reverse logging bans. Democrats also are displeased with the stripping of a House-passed provision that would bar preliminary work on oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
While congressional aides say a presidential veto of the omnibus measure is unlikely, the bill fails to meet all the demands Mr. Bush outlined in a letter to congressional leaders on Feb. 4.
Republican sources close to the negotiations say they are confident the president will retain his existing authority to restrict federal funding of abortions overseas and the bill will keep a provision that bars abortions in the federal-employee health-benefits program.
Still unknown last night was whether the bill would lift the ban on abortions in federal prisons. A House Republican aide said such a provision “would be a veto problem.”
It also was not clear if the bill will include a relaxing of economic sanctions on Cuba, which the president strongly opposes.
The bill also promises “significant reforms to improve Amtrak’s long-term financial condition” to go along with the $1.05 billion in additional spending given to the passenger rail system. Those reforms include giving the secretary of transportation more direct control over Amtrak.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, praised the bill for containing an increase in education spending “eight times President Bush’s request.”
“For the second time in four weeks, Republicans and Democrats will reject the Bush administration’s ongoing drive to divert scarce public school funding to private school vouchers,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Bush proposed a $50 million pilot program for school vouchers in his 2003 budget, but it never made it into the agreement reached yesterday. A $75 million voucher program is in the president’s 2004 budget.