- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Senate yesterday finally passed the $820 billion spending bill leftover from last year, clearing it for President Bush’s signature and giving him several victories that angered Democrats.

The bill — which was passed 65-28, and combines seven leftover 2004 spending bills — adopts the White House positions on allowing overtime pay rules to proceed, keeping the Cuba travel ban in place, and prohibiting overseas groups from using federal funds to perform abortions — all issues over which Mr. Bush threatened vetoes.

It also establishes a private-school voucher program in the District of Columbia, which was a top priority of Mr. Bush.

“I am pleased that the Senate has passed the omnibus budget bill, which fulfills important commitments,” Mr. Bush said in a statement, adding that it “stays within the spending limit” he set.

The measure covers everything from global AIDS prevention to veterans’ care, providing several federal agencies with a total of $820 billion, including $328 billion in discretionary funding. The House passed it in December but Senate Democrats prevented the full body from acting before adjournment.

“It’s good for the country and it will fund the agencies that … need the money now,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But Democrats complained bitterly that the White House forced its will on Congress in many areas of the bill.

“These issues will not go away,” said Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Democrats were particularly incensed that the bill allows the Bush administration to move ahead with its overtime pay rules, which Democrats say would deny such pay to millions of American workers. The Senate voted in September to block the rules and the House later supported that move in a symbolic vote, but Mr. Bush won out and the final spending bill allows the rules to proceed.

“Apparently, majority vote is no longer the rule in the United States Congress, much to my amazement and distress,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

Democrats blocked the spending measure from receiving a final vote Tuesday, but conceded they didn’t have the votes to do so again. Yesterday, several Democrats who previously blocked it, switched and allowed the bill to come to a final vote.

The Senate voted 61-32 to close debate and bring the bill to a final vote, with 16 Democrats voting yes. The bill subsequently passed, 65-28, with the support of 21 Democrats, and four Republicans voting no.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana was one of 13 Democrats who blocked it Tuesday, but allowed it to come to a vote yesterday.

“It’s just more important to me that this bill pass, with funding for critical programs,” she said, adding, however, that she is “sickened” by the Bush administration’s overtime pay rules and hopes Mr. Bush is not re-elected.

Democrats also railed against a provision in the bill that would delay country-of-origin labeling on meat and other food products for two years, saying such labeling would protect Americans from mad cow disease.

The administration succeeded in keeping the Cuba travel ban in effect, after a majority in both chambers voted to lift it. And while the Senate — as it often does — included language in one of the spending bills to overturn the ban on federal funds being used to perform abortions overseas, Mr. Bush won that fight as well.

The administration wanted to allow one company to be able to own TV stations that reach 45 percent of the national market. The House and Senate capped that at 35 percent, but the final spending bill caps it at 39 percent. Democrats charge this still would allow companies such as Fox/News Corp. to dominate too many markets.

Some Republicans were very unhappy, too.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, complained its passage was a victory for “big spenders” and that Republicans crafted, “a bloated bill, with billions of dollars in earmarks” for lawmakers. “I don’t know that you can ever make Democrats happy on the spending side, but we sure did try,” he said.

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