GOP ready to push overdue $397 billion spending bill

Thursday, February 13, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Republicans shaped the final details of a $397.4 billion spending package financing nearly every federal agency and said Wednesday that they would push the long-overdue compromise through Congress this week.

The bill would provide boosts for the FBI, border security, veterans health care and overall education spending while cutting land and job training programs. Democrats complained that it shortchanged domestic security efforts such as protecting nuclear power plants and dams and complained of language they said would open the door to large-scale tree-cutting in national forests.

Even so, the House and Senate were expected to send the measure to President Bush, powered by momentum from its increases for many programs, its billions of dollars worth of projects for lawmakers' home districts and $10 billion Republicans added for the Pentagon and intelligence programs.

"This now has become a national defense bill, an anti-terrorism bill, and that makes it even more of a must-pass bill," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., told reporters.

Passage would let GOP leaders achieve their goal of shifting Congress' agenda to Bush's call for new tax cuts and to the threat of terrorism and a potential war with Iraq. It would also end one of the longer budget standoffs of recent years, more than four months after the Oct. 1 start of the government's fiscal year.

The measure incorporates 11 bills financing foreign aid and every domestic agency from animal health inspections to NASA. GOP leaders pulled the measures last year after Bush demanded less spending than many lawmakers wanted, causing concern among Republicans of a campaign-season showdown that might have embarrassed the president.

Two other bills providing $366 billion for the military were enacted last year.

Exceeding Bush limit

Dogged by the return of huge federal deficits, Bush initially demanded that the bill not exceed $385 billion.

That the final cost was significantly higher underlined the spending pressures lawmakers face this year.

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