- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) — The Senate Thursday appeared close to completing a $390 billion spending bill to fund the government through 2003. The omnibus bill combines 11 spending bills that Congress failed to approve before the end of last session.

The federal government has been operating through a series of continuing resolutions that keep funding for government projects at rates just below previous levels until the passage of the permanent spending bill.

While hardly a victory for the Bush administration — as the bills should have been completed before Oct. 1 — the process of passing the measures gave an early test to the new Senate Republican leadership and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who managed to fight off a series of Democratic amendments to boost spending levels beyond what the White House requested.

The last major push by Democrats came Wednesday evening as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., led an effort to double the $3.1 billion allocated for drought relief for farmers in the West and Midwest. Daschle lost his bid in a mostly partisan vote and railed against the Bush administration for pursuing tax cuts while paying short shrift to farmers.

"I don't understand how Senate Republicans and the administration can say 'yes' to tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and 'no' to farmers and ranchers who are suffering," Daschle said. "The senators who changed their votes and refused to support the plan that provides fair and comprehensive assistance owe America's farmers and ranchers an explanation. This drought has only gotten worse over the last 342 days, and yet these senators voted against the needs of

America's farmers and ranchers."

In the first days of the debate last week, the Republican majority also managed to defeat a proposal by Democrats to add about $6 billion in new spending for homeland defense. Since that vote, Democrats have been offering amendments, at one point they totaled more than 240, on other Democratic issues that have forced the GOP to go to battle on behalf of the Bush administration, which has ruled out any new spending.

Another such issue was also defeated Wednesday as the GOP beat back a proposal by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. — who has announced his intent to challenge President Bush for the White House in 2004 — that would delay the implementation of new environmental regulations that Democrats contend would worsen air quality around the nation.

"This administration has made new rules that are the biggest rollback of clean air protections in history," Edwards said.

The Bush administration plans to soften current regulations on new sources of air pollution, such as power plants and factories. The Edwards amendment would have delayed these new regulations and given the Democrats a political victory.

But despite the assistance of six Republicans, the measure failed 50-46 after key Democrats from Louisiana and Arkansas joined the GOP to vote down the plan.

Louisiana Democratic Sens. John Breaux and Mary Landrieu joined with Arkansas Democrats Mark Prior and Blanche Lincoln in voting against the party on the regulations.

On Tuesday — in a rare moment of nonpartisan voting — the Senate did approve $300 million to assist low-income families with heating costs.

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