White House threatens to veto Senate anti-terror bill

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House threatened Tuesday to veto the Senate's $31.4 billion anti-terrorism bill, complaining that the measure spends more than President Bush wants.

In a statement sent to Senate leaders, White House budget officials said the Democratic-led Senate's package exceeds the $27.1 billion plan that Bush sent Congress in March. The measure contains funds for the military, intelligence, local emergency agencies and rebuilding New York from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The administration strongly opposes this bill and also would strongly oppose any amendment to further increase spending above the president's request," the statement said.

If the bill "were presented to the president in its current form, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," it added.

The statement escalated the congressional battle that has erupted over how the government should marshal additional security resources to combat terrorism.

Senators have prepared several amendments that would add to the bill's overall price tag.

In its first vote on the legislation, the Senate voted 91-4 Tuesday to drop proposed restrictions on emergency airline loans, handing a victory to financially struggling US Airways and perhaps other carriers as well.

The roll call removed language from the counterterrorism spending bill that would have forbidden new federally backed loans to ailing carriers until Oct. 1. Without the $393 million in estimated savings from curtailing the loans, the anti-terror package's price tag rose to $31.4 billion.

As part of an airline bailout package enacted days after Sept. 11, lawmakers set aside $10 billion for federally guaranteed loans for carriers whose business was harmed by the terrorist attacks.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., had included the loan restrictions to tamp down the counterterrorism legislation's price tag.

US Airways and congressional allies from communities it serves have said the carrier needs a $1 billion loan this summer or may face bankruptcy. Byrd himself -- along with Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the appropriations panel's top Republican -- introduced the amendment to drop the restrictions.

Also dropped was language shrinking the $10 billion in overall loan guarantees to $4 billion, which could benefit other carriers who may apply for future loans.

The House-passed counterterrorism bill also bars new loans until October. But aides from both chambers have predicted the provision will be dropped from the final House-Senate bill.

Other amendments may also drive up the bill's price tag, including a proposal by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to add $150 million for communities for summer schools.

The House approved a $29 billion package May 24.

No Republican senator spoke during Monday's brief debate on the measure, called a supplemental spending bill because it would cover the last four months of the federal fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. But last week, Bush again warned the Senate against producing a costly bill, though he avoided directly threatening a veto.

"The supplemental ought to focus on emergency measures, measures that are needed to fight the war, to button up the homeland," Bush said. "The supplemental shouldn't be viewed as an opportunity to load it up with special projects."

As written, the measure contains strikingly fewer projects designed for individual lawmakers' home districts than usual for a bill of its size. It does include $3 million for the Interior Department to drill five water wells in Santa Fe, N.M., and $16 million to help Northeastern fishing interests hurt by legal restrictions on fishing.

Byrd and Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Appropriations panel's top Republican, are expected to oppose many add-ons unless they are paid for with cuts in other programs.

Even so, likely amendments include:

--Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, want to give cash-strapped states $8.9 billion for Medicaid and a new social services block grant. The effort seems likely to fail. But if not, it would restore some funds states lost due to a business tax cut Congress enacted earlier this year. That cut reduced revenue for states whose tax systems are linked to federal law.

--Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., plans to seek nearly $1 billion to help farmers hit by recent drought conditions.

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