Democratic move to add billions to anti-terror package derailed
WASHINGTON -- The House handed a victory to President Bush on Wednesday by derailing a Democratic drive to pour billions of extra dollars into anti-terrorism efforts, defense and aid to New York.
The largely party-line 216-211 vote moved the House to the verge of approving a $20 billion package to finance the war in Afghanistan and the battle against domestic terrorism. It also included help for New York and other communities recovering from the attacks that leveled the World Trade Center's towers, damaged the Pentagon and killed thousands of people.
With just four defections, GOP lawmakers rallied behind Bush's threat to veto the legislation if money were added to it. Bush has cast the fight as a test of fiscal austerity, coupling that with a promise to seek more money early next year if needed.
"Congress will respond" when more money is requested, said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill. "But we need to be responsible about these things."
Democrats said now was the time to lay out more money to buy vaccines, hire sky marshals, secure Russian nuclear material, increase food inspections and otherwise thwart terrorists.
"We're going after the snake," Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said about the U.S.-led hunt for Osama bin Laden and other suspected terrorist leaders in Afghanistan. "They're going to try to retaliate."
The vote underlined the strong pull the widely popular Bush has on GOP lawmakers. That influence, plus pressure from party leaders, let them withstand lobbying by unions, mail-order businesses, ports and other groups that stood to benefit from the Democrats' proposal.
Bush won a victory in the Democratic-controlled Senate as well. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he would slice his party's plan to add $15 billion for domestic security to half that amount. That is on top of an underlying $20 billion in anti-terror spending.
Daschle said he would remove the domestic security package from economic stimulus legislation, where it had been a major obstacle to a bipartisan deal on using tax cuts and new spending to prod the slumbering national economy.
That move, coupled with signals of widespread support for a plan to erase Social Security taxes for a month, breathed new life into the economic stimulus bill.
At a morning White House meeting, Bush asked congressional leaders to intensify efforts for compromise. The leaders planned to meet again Wednesday night.
"Hopefully, we'll get this done in the next week or so," said Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla.
The Senate Appropriations Committee planned to vote on its version of the anti-terror package next Tuesday.
The $20 billion in anti-terrorism spending was half the $40 billion that Congress approved three days after the attacks. Bush controls half, while the rest must be approved anew and in detail by lawmakers.
Almost from the beginning, Bush threatened to veto spending that would exceed the $40 billion. White House officials renewed that threat Wednesday.
"We look forward to working with the Congress to ensure that the highest priority needs are met in an expeditious manner," they wrote to congressional leaders.
Dividing the money
The 216-211 tally blocked votes on three Democratic amendments aimed at adding $7.2 billion for protecting drinking water, hiring border guards and other domestic security steps; $6.5 billion for defense; and $9.7 billion to help New York and other communities recover from the attacks.
Before Thanksgiving, New Yorkers from both parties were demanding the extra $9.7 billion for local recovery. They cited a promise they said Bush made to give those communities half the $40 billion.
But in negotiations with the White House led by Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., most Republican New Yorkers settled for an extra $1.5 billion that would be shifted from other funds within the $20 billion package. Democrats remained opposed.
Of the $40 billion, about $11 billion is for New York and the other areas. Administration officials have said the total will reach at least $20 billion with later bills helping jobless workers and providing other aid.
Overall, $21 billion of the $40 billion is for the military.
The $20 billion was attached to a bill providing $318 billion for the Defense Department this year. The measure is $20 billion more than last year's total and equals Bush's request, but it cuts $441 million from Bush's $8.3 billion plan for national missile defense.