- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Democrats and a few Republicans yesterday blocked the Senate from approving the $820 billion spending bill left over from last year, saying the overtime-pay and media-ownership provisions attached to the bill would have detrimental effects on millions of Americans.

“We should take the time to fix the bill’s problems because they affect millions of American families,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat who led the effort to block the bill. “We ask just a few days to improve this bill.”

Among other things, they oppose a provision that they say would delay country-of-origin labeling on meat products for two years. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and other Democrats said alerting people about where the meat they’re buying comes from will protect American consumers and boost the sale of U.S. beef overseas, because American meat is considered the safest.

They also object to the bill’s provisions on media-ownership rules and an overtime-pay provision that they say would deny such pay to American workers.

The Democrats said the provisions were added by the White House and Republican leaders behind closed doors and forced on the rest of Congress. Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, said Republicans worked with the White House “in the dark of night” to include such provisions, and then told the rest of Congress “take it or leave it.”

Senate Republican leaders knew they didn’t have the 60 votes needed to pass the procedural motion, which would have cut off debate on the measure and forced a final vote. The motion failed 48-45. Five Republicans joined 39 Democrats and one independent in opposing it. Three Democrats sided with 45 Republicans in favor.

“Today, a minority in the Senate denied a vote on a spending bill that is four months overdue, and that fulfills important commitments: commitments to veterans who need health care; to Africans suffering from AIDS; to FBI agents fighting terror; to children learning to read in our nation’s public schools,” President Bush said in a statement yesterday.

“This bill stays within the spending limits I proposed. And the Senate needs to pass it.”

Republicans plan to vote again on the motion sometime this week, and a Senate Republican leadership aide said they expect that some Democrats will “crack” the second time around, allowing the bill to be approved. They said the bill won’t be changed at this late date.

“There’s no way to amend this bill,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican. “You can kill this bill, but you can’t amend it.”

Mr. Dorgan said he voted to block the bill to “blow the whistle on the process” and highlight certain provisions he opposes, but added that he intends to vote yes on the next vote.

The measure — which covers everything from global AIDS prevention to veterans’ health care — combines seven leftover 2004 spending bills, and provides several federal agencies with a total of $820 billion, including $328 billion in discretionary funding.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine was one of the Republicans who voted with Democrats. She cited provisions in the bill that she said would hurt her state’s fishing industry.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, again warned yesterday that if the bill is blocked, the only option will be to adopt a continuing resolution extending current funding levels through the rest of the year — which he called “a stark alternative.”

This would deny some federal agencies the bill’s key 2004 funding increases for issues such as veterans’ health care, fighting domestic terrorism and dealing with mad cow disease, he said. He also has cited other provisions in the bill, including a 4.1 percent federal pay raise and $50 million to deal with the flu outbreak.

“The time has come to pass this legislation and to move forward into next year’s budget,” he urged before the vote. “It’s time for us to move forward in 2004, rather than remain stuck in 2003.”

Mr. Frist voted against his own motion, which allows him to reconsider the vote and demand another sometime this week.

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