- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

House Republican leaders yesterday warned senators that they support President Bush’s veto threat against the Senate’s $108 billion war and hurricane-relief emergency-spending bill, which is laden with extra, unrelated spending items.

The Senate was preparing as soon as today to approve the spending measure, which goes far beyond the roughly $92 billion that Mr. Bush requested and the House approved. It contains extra items like $4 billion for agriculture relief, $1.1 billion for fisheries and a $700 million plan to reroute a railroad.

Mr. Bush threatened a veto if the extra items are not removed, and House leaders yesterday backed that threat, staking out a firm position for the House-Senate negotiations on a final measure.

“The Senate emergency-spending bill represents a huge spending spree, but the big losers will be the American taxpayers stuck with the tab,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in a joint statement. “We support the president’s threat to veto the wayward spending bill. The American people don’t deserve a special-interest shopping cart disguised as a supplemental.”

The Senate bill had been $106.5 billion, but yesterday senators quietly added about $1.6 billion more for levee and related projects in the New Orleans area. Mr. Bush requested these additional funds last week, but asked that they be offset by reducing another part of the bill. The Senate opted not to do that.

Meanwhile, Senate conservatives who have been trying unsuccessfully for the past week to trim the measure, welcomed the House threat. They said the House stand, plus Mr. Bush’s threat and the 35 Senate Republicans who are backing the veto threat, signals to spenders on both sides of the aisle that the bill must be cut.

“I think some of those things are sending the message,” said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican. “It gives us a strong position to go into conference with.”

“The American people are growing very weary,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said of extra spending projects attached to bills. He tried yesterday to strip out of the bill $6 million for Hawaiian sugar-cane growers.

The bill is an emergency measure for war efforts and hurricane relief, Mr. McCain said, and “Hawaii sugar growers do not fit in any of these categories.” His amendment failed, 59-40.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, tried to prevent Northrop Grumman from getting as much as $500 million from language in the bill to help with hurricane damage, but his amendment was defeated, 52-47. He argued that since the company already has disaster insurance, the government shouldn’t step in.

“Insurance companies should be on the hook for this, not our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Coburn said.

Mississippi senators strongly defended the help, saying insurance companies are taking too long to reimburse and that the money is needed now for the defense contractor. They said the bill’s language would ensure that insurance money the company later receives will be given back to the government, so as to avoid double-payment. But Mr. Coburn said once the government pays the company, the insurance company won’t have the legal obligation to pay.

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