- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

House and Senate leaders take a major spending test this week as they try to complete a hurricane and war emergency-funding bill, but face tough negotiations over billions of dollars in extra, unrelated items that the Senate added to its version of the bill.

President Bush has threatened to veto the final bill if it doesn’t comply with his $92.2 billion limit, plus $2.3 billion for pandemic flu efforts. He reiterated his concern yesterday in a regularly scheduled White House meeting with Republican leaders.

“He wants it down,” House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said, referring to the Senate’s steep price tag.

The House-passed version is in line with Mr. Bush, at about $92 billion, but the Senate-passed version is about $109 billion and contains many extra items including $4 billion for agriculture assistance, $1.1 billion for fisheries and $700 million to reroute a railroad in Mississippi.

House leaders yesterday reiterated a hard line on the bill.

“Our constituents don’t want to hear about some out-of-control spending bill. The Senate bill is bloated and excessive,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

House and Senate spending chiefs have agreed to come down to Mr. Bush’s number but are now fighting over which items get axed from the bill, which was designed to fund hurricane recovery and the war on terrorism.

The House officially appointed negotiators yesterday, indicating a deal may be possible before the Memorial Day break.

“We are very hopeful, but I wouldn’t say for sure yet,” Mr. Boehner said.

Critics of the railroad money have dubbed it the “railroad to nowhere,” and House Republicans strongly oppose it. But it’s backed by the powerful Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.

A Senate Republican leadership aide said the House won’t pass a final bill with the railroad money in it.

The aide also said the agriculture money will likely be reduced.

Complicating negotiations further is $1.9 billion in border-security funding that Mr. Bush last week requested be included in the bill. The administration suggested funding it by reducing a portion of defense-related spending in the bill.

The last-minute addition has “slowed things down a lot,” another top Senate Republican aide said.

Meanwhile last night, the House passed a $94 billion agriculture spending bill 378-46, but only after conservatives tried to crack down on what they called frivolous spending.

“Simply put, earmarking is out of control,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who led the charge, unsuccessfully offering more than 10 amendments that would have blocked a slew of earmarks in the bill. Most of the proposals were defeated on voice votes, but he did force recorded votes on three of his amendments.

The three proposals that received recorded votes would have killed grants to dairy education in Iowa, to hydroponic tomato production in Ohio and to the National Grape and Wine Initiative in California — three proposals worth less than $510,000 combined. All of Mr. Flake’s amendments were defeated overwhelmingly, and the earmarks survived — the dairy program by 325-92, the tomato project by 328-90, the wine program by 328-87.

The other earmarks Mr. Flake tried to block included $874,244 for Appalachian horticulture research in Mississippi and $6.4 million for a wood-utilization program in 10 states.

The agriculture spending bill would provide $18.4 billion in 2007 discretionary funding — $564 million more than Mr. Bush’s 2007 request.

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