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House blocks adding billions to security bill
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- The House blocked a Democratic effort Wednesday to add billions to what President Bush wants for national security and aid to New York and moved toward approving a bipartisan $20 billion anti-terrorism package.
The largely party-line 216-211 vote was a victory for the Republican leadership and Bush, who has threatened to veto the legislation if extra money is added. Most GOP lawmakers stayed behind the president despite pressure from unions, airports and other groups supporting the extra spending Democrats want.
"Our opponents across the aisle are trying to outbid us," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas. "What this is about is wise and prudent spending of the taxpayers' resources."
The House vote prevented Democrats from offering three amendments that would have added $7.2 billion for hiring border guards, purchasing smallpox vaccines and other domestic security programs; $6.5 billion for defense; and $9.7 billion to help New York and other communities recover from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We're going after the snake," Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said about the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. "They're going to try to retaliate."
Despite the outcome, Democrats planned a procedural vote later in the day aimed at derailing the bill until more money is added. It, too, seemed likely to fail.
The battle was pitting an effort by Bush to restrain federal spending against a Democratic drive to boost spending on border patrols, food inspection and other programs that are widely popular at a time of widespread worry over terrorism.
In a letter to House leaders, White House officials renewed their veto threat if money was added. They have said they will consider boosting the spending next year.
"We look forward to working with the Congress to ensure that the highest priority needs are met in an expeditious manner," they wrote.
In the Senate, majority Democrats had been trying to add $15 billion for domestic security programs to a separate economic stimulus bill. But in a sign of movement Wednesday, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Democrats would slice that amount in half and shift the money to the Senate's version of the anti-terrorism spending package.
Bush has threatened to veto any legislation that would spend any more than the $40 billion in emergency anti-terror spending he and lawmakers agreed to on Sept. 14. That was three days after the attacks that leveled the World Trade Center towers and damaged the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 people.
Bush controls half that money. The other $20 billion, which needs congressional approval, is attached to a defense bill providing $318 billion for this year that the House was debating.
House Democrats had hoped that during Congress' weeklong Thanksgiving break, Republicans from New York or other border or port states would feel pressure to support the proposed additional spending. Groups representing mail-order companies, ports, airports and the travel industry have tried to round up support for the Democratic plan.
But as lawmakers returned in force to the Capitol on Tuesday, Republicans said that other than Rep. John Sweeney of New York, they were unaware of other GOP lawmakers who might support the Democratic drive.
"I think we can hold it," said Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., asked if Republicans had enough votes to beat back Democrats.
Before the recess, Walsh had led a bipartisan effort by New Yorkers to add $9.7 billion to the measure for his state and others affected by the terrorist attacks. But after negotiations with White House officials, he won an extra $1.5 billion for New York, money that came from shifting other funds within the $20 billion package.