- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly passed a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill to fund the war on terror and hurricane recovery, but only after House leaders forced the Senate to cut about $14 billion from its version.

The bill, which the House passed Tuesday, was approved by the Senate on a 98-1 vote and was signed yesterday evening by President Bush, who had threatened a veto if the final version exceeded $94.5 billion. The Senate bill had reached $109 billion.

In his signing statement, Mr. Bush praised the bill for providing “additional resources needed to fight the war on terror, help citizens of the Gulf States recover from devastating hurricanes, and protect Americans from a potential influenza pandemic.”

Senate leaders immediately credited Republicans in both chambers for saving the legislation.

“Republican-led efforts ensured the bill didn’t exceed the president’s emergency request while focusing our resources on the critical priorities,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

Others said the spending bill would have ballooned out of control without the hard line drawn by House leaders, especially Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

“It would have been much higher without the insistence of the House,” said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican.

The measure provides $65.8 billion for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including money for Humvees and tanks; and $19.8 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, including $500 million in agricultural assistance. The agricultural package was reduced from about $4 billion in the Senate version.

The bill also funds two specific extra requests from Mr. Bush: $2.3 billion for avian flu preparedness efforts and $1.9 billion for border security.

Before he signed the bill, Mr. Bush credited congressional leadership and the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees — Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican and Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican — for reducing the bill to an acceptable level.

“I am pleased that Congress has addressed these urgent national priorities within the spending limits I set,” Mr. Bush said.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, and other House conservatives voted against the bill and recommended that Mr. Bush veto it because about $5 billion of the allocation is unrelated to either the war or hurricane recovery. The bill passed the House by a 351-67 vote.

Conservatives said items that don’t belong in the bill include $35.6 million for mine safety, $27.6 million to repair utility steam tunnels in the Capitol Power Plant and $38 million for oyster activities.

Negotiators from both chambers killed a contentious Senate project that would have provided $700 million to reroute a railroad in Mississippi, as well as language that critics said would have forced the Navy to reimburse Northrop Grumman Corp. for hurricane damage, lifting the burden from insurance companies.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, cast the only opposing vote yesterday, saying it didn’t include an extra $7 billion in the annual budget for labor, health and education. Mr. Specter is chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees that bill.

“This vote should not be misconstrued as voting against our troops or hurricane recovery efforts,” he said.

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