- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004


The House yesterday unanimously approved $14.5 billion for hurricane victims and struggling farmers as Congress moved a step closer to showering money on Florida and other pivotal states in the upcoming elections.

After weeks of delay over everything from budget cuts to milk subsidies, House-Senate bargainers added the natural-disaster aid to a $10 billion military-construction measure. With both chambers holding rare weekend sessions to clear bills before Election Day on Nov. 2, the House passed the measure 374-0. Senate passage is possible as early as today.

“No section of Florida was spared,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, said of the four hurricanes that battered his state and the South this summer. “It’s difficult for me to express gratitude as effectively as I should.”

The legislation underscored the heightened political sensitivities of the run-up to next month’s voting.

Both parties were eager to quickly ship aid to vote-rich Florida. President Bush never proposed aid for drought, floods and other agriculture emergencies, but the White House and members of both parties were itching to send assistance to Midwestern states that are election battlegrounds.

The House by 368-0 also passed a bill providing $33 billion for the Homeland Security Department for the new budget year, which began Oct. 1. Senators were determined to approve the measure before leaving town to campaign.

The overall bill provided nearly $900 million more than Mr. Bush proposed. It includes $1.1 billion for grants given to states based on population — $400 million more than the president wanted. But it also has $875 million — nearly $600 million below Mr. Bush’s proposal — for money given to cities considered attractive terrorist targets.

In addition, money for police and other emergency responders totaled about $3.6 billion — about $500 million less than last year’s total.

It also contained language blocking Mr. Bush from replacing about 1,000 immigration workers with private contractors. The provision had drawn a White House veto threat, but administration officials were telling congressional aides that Mr. Bush would not reject the bill over the issue.

Congress finally took up the Homeland Security Department measure after Eastern and Midwest lawmakers temporarily abandoned their fight — until Congress’ upcoming postelection session — to extend a milk-subsidy program for two years.

In other Hill business:

• Congress approved a bill shaping $477 billion in programs for the Pentagon for the new budget year. The measure would let the Air Force buy 100 Boeing 767s for use as midair-refueling tankers, but would block a proposal to lease the aircraft.

• Congress sent Mr. Bush a bill increasing access to DNA testing for rape victims and convicted felons.

• The Senate sent Mr. Bush a bill ending the government’s guarantee to banks of a 9.5 percent rate of return on some student loans. The guarantee had meant large profits for lenders at a time of much lower interest rates.

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