- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

The Senate last night passed a $390 billion spending bill, moving a step closer to wrapping up unfinished budget work of the last Congress that is nearly four months late.

The bill passed 69-29, with 19 Democrats joining 50 Republicans in supporting the measure, while 27 Democrats, one independent and one Republican Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald of Illinois were opposed.

The omnibus bill, which covers everything but the already passed Pentagon budget for fiscal 2003, includes very little of the additional spending Democrats tried to tack on in the past six days by offering about 250 amendments.

The vote set the stage for what could be prolonged negotiations with the House before a final measure can go to President Bush for his signature.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, again pulled out his "Spend-O-Meter" to track the cost of amendments offered by Democrats. By yesterday afternoon, he said the extra spending items were going to "burst the bubble off the top" of the Meter.

"The Spend-O-Meter is flying at a very high rate of speed," Mr. Santorum said. "Within 24 hours we have gone from $341 billion to almost a grand total of a half-trillion dollars in new spending being proposed by those on the other side of the aisle."

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said Mr. Santorum's speech was "good for the amusement of the chamber" but that "those numbers bear no relationship to the amendments that have been offered here."

Mr. Conrad said the amendments were one-time appropriations, not long-term commitments.

"These amendments restore cuts that have been made in the budget for this year," he said. "It doesn't have anything to do with spending 10 years from now."

He added that the notion that Republicans were saving "all kinds of money" with their version of the 2003 budget "is a hoax." Mr. Conrad said the budget submitted last year when he was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee was only $2 billion more than the current bill.

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, lauded the vote in a written statement, saying that senators "have successfully joined with the president in saving taxpayers billions in unnecessary spending."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, thanked his party for displaying discipline. Some Republican senators wanted to support some of the Democratic amendments particularly additional spending for aid to Africa, Midwest drought relief, Medicare reform and education moves that would politically embarrass the new majority leader.

Those wavering Republican senators have been promised that their issues will be addressed in coming months, Mr. Frist said.

Those conciliatory notes stood in contrast to the mood on the floor most of the afternoon. Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, expressed acute frustration about time spent dealing with the flood of Democratic amendments that were doomed to fail.

One amendment offered by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, that would increase Medicare funding by $4 billion died when Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, objected to the amendment on the grounds that it already had been voted on.

The Senate also voted to block funding for a Pentagon project that would scour a wide range of computer databases for terrorist threats. The Total Information Awareness program could get no money until the Pentagon details the system and assesses its effect on civil liberties.

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